MIT microchip that can filter our blood cells

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

The blood swirling around our bodies is made up of four main things: red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), platelets, and plasma. While blood has several important roles in our bodies, WBCs are extremely crucial for fighting infections. When our body gets infected, the blood vessels near the area of sickness release a sticky molecule that attracts WBCs to come help out. Since these cells are key to our well-being, doctors like to keep track of how many healthy WBCs are in their patients. In order to assist with separating the regular blood cells from the awesome WBCs, a team of researchers from MIT have invented a microchip that does just that.

blood flow
This diagram shows how the microchip separates the normal blood cells (red) so that the WBCs (purple) can be counted filtered more easily.

I know you’re probably wondering how the heck a microchip “separates” blood. Is it plugged into the body? Is blood poured on the chip?

Not quite. The insides of tiny tubes in the microchip were covered in the same sticky material the body normally uses to attract the WBCs. When researchers took small amounts of blood and pumped it through the stamp-sized microchip, the WBCs were easily filtered and separated from the rest of the blood! How easy was it, really? Well, for every 99 white blood cells, there was only 1 other type of cell in the filtered sample. This may not sound like a lot, but the blood normally has 1000 RBCs for every 1 WBC! If the cells are usually so outnumbered, why was the chip so successful at separating them from the rest of the blood?

“We believe that because we’re using a very [life-like] process, the cells are happier,” said MIT professor Rohit Karnik says. “It’s a more gentle process, and the cells are functionally viable.”

Images courtesy of MIT, Suman Bose, and Rohit Karnik.