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Less Blood, more information

Patients in emergency situations need help quickly, in particular when the immune system turns against the body, such as in sepsis. Developing a miniature laboratory that can acquire the required information from a few drops of blood for suitable therapeutic diagnosis is the goal of the EU project Hemospec.

The human immune system is highly complex and efficient. However, in weakened persons, severe infections can result in a damaging overreaction in the body’s immune response. This condition, referred to as sepsis, can rapidly end fatally – every passing hour in which the proper treatment cannot be administered decreases the chance of survival by almost eight percent. Doctors obtain the most important information concerning the condition of a sepsis patient by taking a blood sample. The problem with this course of action is that a blood sample usually offers little information about the type of infection the patient has and the body’s immune response. Scientists from Greece, Italy, Portugal, France, Denmark, and Germany are working together on the Hemospec Project to develop a handheld device that vastly improves the analysis process.

These partners will be meeting for a kick-off in Jena on November 20, 2013. The EU will be funding this project with a total of five million euros over the course of the next four years. 

"The key to improving blood analysis for all participating partners is the use of optical technologies," says Professor Dr. Jürgen Popp, spokesperson for the project and director of IPHT. “The unique properties of light make it possible for us to gather more information in a shorter amount of time than the common blood sample allows.”

The goal of the scientists and engineers is to combine their competencies in the different areas of optical technologies in a modular platform. Just a few drops of blood are sufficient to be distributed, mixed, and filtered using microfluidic channels. With the help of holography, Raman spectroscopy, and the readout of fluorescence-labeled biomarkers, researchers aim to gather more information on the condition of the patient from the patient’s blood. 

Holographic microscopy provides 3D images of single blood cells, much like the common blood sample. Testing for the body’s own biomarkers provides information on the condition of the immune system and whether, for example, organ failure is imminent or not. Dr. Ute Neugebauer’s team from IPHT and the Center for Sepsis Control and Care (CSCC) at the University Hospital in Jena (UKJ) is responsible for the Raman spectroscopic analysis of leukocytes, the body’s own immune cells. “During an infection, leukocytes adapt to the task at hand and change their surface accordingly, for example. We would like to be able to detect these changes using Raman spectroscopy,” says Neugebauer. With the help of color shifts in laser light, Raman spectroscopy makes it possible to detect the substances in illuminated samples. Light provides a vibrational excitation, and each molecule reveals an unchanging spectrum, its so-called fingerprint. 

The special part about the Hemospec consortium is the leading developers from this field and clinical partners who have been involved in this project since the beginning. “They make it possible to take the results from the laboratories and, within a short amount of time, first test them in a clinical environment and then quickly transform them into user-friendly devices,” according to Prof. Dr. Michael Bauer, spokesperson of the CSCC and associate director at the Clinic of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine at the UKJ. The need for such equipment is great and will continue to increase, especially in industrial countries and their aging societies.

Partners of the Hemospec Project:
Institute of Photonic Technology e.V.
CSCC of the University Hospital in Jena
University of Athens, Greece
National Research Foundation (CNR), Italy
Bmd Software LDA, Portugal
Datamed SRL, Italy
Horiba Jobin Yvon S.A.S., France
Virogates Aps, DenmarkL