Plasma cells in blood can be determined using a microfluidics device

Plasma cells are the white blood cells generated in bone marrow that manufacture antibodies to assist against fight infection. If these cells become cancerous, resulting in multiple myeloma, they generate nonstandard proteins, and the cells can accumulate in the bone marrow, eventually leaking into the bloodstream. At present, the patient has to go through a painful process as the diagnosis of this disease requires a bone marrow biopsy. In this process, a needle is injected close to the hip bone of the patient to draw a bone marrow sample. The clinicians then separate and examine the plasma cells present in the sample of bone marrow to verify if they are cancerous.

At present, there is no simple method to identify plasma cells that have seeped into the bloodstream. In healthy individuals, usually plasma cells are not found circulating, and the potential to identify these cells in the blood can make it possible for the doctors to analyze and keep eye on the development of multiple myeloma.

A research team at MIT has developed a microfluidic method to trap and calculate plasma cell circulating from small blood samples. The technology, which depends on the traditional blood draw, might offer the patients with a test for multiple myeloma that is less painful.

The team utilized a microfluidic herringbone pattern to trap plasma cells that are circulating. The microchip’s channels were coated about the dimension of a glass slide with CD138, which is an antibody expressed on the plasma cell membranes. Then small, 1ml blood sample was passed through the device. The blood was circulated in the microfluidic channels by the herringbone grooves. The antibodies functioned as small Velcro pads that captured any plasma cell traveling through the device while allowing the remaining blood out of the system.

After isolating the cells in the microchip, it was possible for the team to calculate the cells and also evaluate the types of antibodies secreted by each cell. This technique of drawing blood is easy and comparatively non-invasive, thus enabling the doctors to keep a track of recovery of the patient by taking several samples of blood and monitor the circulating plasma cell levels over time.

This method can actually avoid going through a painful procedure for detecting multiple myeloma, isn’t it?