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A step towards an ‘artificial spleen’ could aid 1.6 billion anaemia sufferers

Epigem, a high-tech British micro engineering company, has made a major contribution to the EU-funded CoMMiTMenT (Combined Molecular Microscopy for Therapy and Personalised Medication in Rare Anaemia Treatments) project, a significant step towards the creation of an ‘artificial spleen’.

It will enable sufferers of rare anaemias to have more specific diagnoses and promises the potential for personalised treatment plans that are tailored to an individual’s particular condition.

Tim Ryan, Epigem’s Managing Director, explained, “Our aim is to create microfluidic modules for separation and challenging of red blood cells with shear stress and cytokines and other hostile factors released into the circulation. This approach will require complex testing for which several drops of blood will be required.

“The prototypes of microfluidic chips produced from biocompatible materials can be sterilised and enable sequences of multimodal measurements. Quick and reliable testing of RBC deformability is achieved by passing blood samples or red cell suspension through a tube-like chip with pinch-points the size of red blood cells, at regular intervals.

“This ‘maze’ allows easy passage of healthy cells but poses problems for cells with reduced deformability such as cells of patients with rare forms of anaemia, diabetes and cells with “storage lesions” used for transfusion. The prototypes are currently being rigorously tested by the other members of the CoMMiTMenT consortium.

“We are really proud and excited to be involved in these innovative developments that could make major improvements in the diagnoses and treatment of rare anaemias, and which also have the potential to identify other as yet undiscovered red blood cell disorders.

“To create a device that functions like a spleen and can change the chemical environment of the blood cells is a key step forward and could change the lives of billions of sufferers for the better.”

The development of this innovative technology which could ultimately provide a new diagnostic tool that filters blood in much the same manner as a spleen could prove revolutionary.

Achievements to date have enabled clinicians to obtain useful new data and Epigem is now working with its EU project partners on the next three key steps of the project, which are:

– To develop further devices that provide additional data

– To enable identification of novel biomarkers for RBC abnormalities

– To improve current diagnostic approaches by generating a prototype that can be used in the clinics for diagnosis of patients with rare anaemia

Dr Lars Kaestner, project leader and Head of the Centre for Molecular Imaging and Screening at Saarland University in Germany, said, “Collaborative EU projects like ‘CoMMiTMenT’ bring together organisations who come from widely different fields with little knowledge of each other’s capabilities or requirements; in this case medical clinicians with microfabrication engineers.

“It is great that Epigem have been able to use microfluidics technology to approach practical solutions to our unmet clinical needs. Since CoMMiTMenT just finished the first year out of five years, I am optimistic that we will indeed reach clinical solutions within this project.”


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