Mar 31, 2015 Jessica Bartlett Reporter-Boston Business Journal
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health is helping to fund an affordable sickle cell diagnostic, awarding $100,000 to the Whitesides Research Group.
Courtesy/Whitesides Research Group
A density test can tell whether someone has sickle cell disease.
The team, led by Harvard University Chemistry Professor George Whitesides, has been working on diagnostic for years, and has a prototype that has been tested in both the lab and in Zambia. The test currently costs 50 cents a piece, though engineers are hoping to make it cheaper
The money, granted through the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies, will help engineers perfect the prototype, as well as ensure that the prototype functions within a larger manufacturing and shipping process.
“We’re at a stage where we’re hoping to have a commercial partner soon and move forward on this,” said AJ Kumar, postdoctoral fellow and Whitesides Research Group member who is leading the sickle cell disease project.
The diagnostic works by filtering blood into a solution that is able to parse out cells based on their density. Sickle cells, which are deformed red blood cells shaped like a C, are denser than normal red blood cells, and sink to the bottom of the solution.
“The main goal is to identify people with sickle cell disease, but even if we can help with the screening process…that could also be a win,” Kumar said.
Currently, sickle cell disease affects more than 300,000 newborns every year, most in sub-Saharan Africa and India. Timely diagnosis can be difficult due to out of hospital births, a lack of reliable electricity and a shortage of trained personnel.
An affordable diagnostic would help children get the care they need before they suffer from complications of the disease.