Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is not a trivial illness. Every individual in the world’s population has the potential to suffer from this nutritional disease. According to estimations, 900 million people worldwide are already afflicted with it. IDA is known to lower cognitive ability, work capacity, and future productivity of both children and adults. The situation appears to be grave when we consider the economic consequences of these problems.
The human body needs iron to produce red blood cells, and having low iron levels in the body leads to IDA. Diagnosis of IDA requires a complete blood count is performed by a bulky hematology analyzer. IDA has been a common disease for a really long time; however, its associated diagnosis costs are considerably high, and the diagnosis equipment is not available in many places of the world. Given the facts, IDA diagnosis actually deserves cheaper and easily accessible equipment, which has unfortunately remained elusive—up until now.
In last month’s issue of Lab on a Chip, Whitesides research group at Harvard University came up with a sound idea to diagnose IDA in a shorter and inexpensive way. They developed a low-cost and rapid-screening tool to diagnose IDA using aqueous multiphase systems containing layer of polymer-salt mixtures. These mixtures are loaded in a microhematocrit tube (depicted in the figure) together with a drop of blood from a fingerprick. Diagnosis results become available after a 2-minute low-cost centrifuging process.
The reported data suggest that diagnosis of IDA is improved by means of sensitivity and specificity when compared to the bulky hematology analyzer’s results. Several important red blood cell parameters, such as concentration of hemoglobin in a given volume of red blood cells, can be predicted. The technique’s ability to diagnose IDA was further improved using automated digital analysis. They also show that the tool is able to detect a wider range of anemia types including microcytic and hypochromic anemia. The portable and low cost screening tool could possibly find use in rural clinics where large fractions of the population at risk of IDA. Before entering the market, the performance of this technique will still have to be validated to demonstrate feasibility of using and interpreting the assay.
Figure. Design of the presented test loaded with blood before and after centrifugation for a representative IDA and Normal sample. Blood is loaded into the top of the tube, from a fingerprick, using capillary action provided by a hole in the side of the tube. Normal blood packs at the bottom of the tube, while less dense blood cells can be seen packing at the interfaces between the phases and inside the tube. Normal and IDA blood can be differentiated by eye after only 2 minutes of centrifugation. It is also possible to read the analysis results in an automated way. A commonly used software is used to convert the image to red intensity graphs.