White blood cells are a key part of your immune system, helping to protect your body against infection. Chemotherapy can lower the number of infection-fighting white blood cells, weakening your immune system and causing febrile neutropenia. Currently, 20% of all new cancer patients will experience at least one episode of febrile neutropenia, a healthcare burden that totals $2 billion per year in US alone. Finding new ways to monitor cell count is key to not only lower associated costs, but to improve patient outcomes.
The startup Leuko Labs is developing a device that allow cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to monitor their white blood cell count at home without drawing blood. The technology is based on research from MIT and consists of optical sensors that can see through the skin, counting white blood cells as they flow past a miniature lens. The device is placed on the patient’s fingertip where it captures images of the capillaries very close to the surface in the nailbed. The hemoglobin in the red cell absorbs the light, while the white cells appear as small transparent particles. Algorithms recognize these white blood cells and count them, providing an estimate of blood concentration.
Hundreds of thousands of new cancer patients each year receive chemotherapy treatment with high risk of febrile neutropenia. The innovative technology allows a non-invasive, home-based and more frequent monitoring of white blood cell status, which will enable the detection of severe immunosuppression before fever or infections ensues. This let doctors prescribe and deliver more cost effective preventive treatments, i.e. growth colony stimulating factors, reducing hospitalizations and their associated costs. The device also offer a personalization of chemotherapy treatment as it enables the monitoring of the ongoing immune response. This provide the benefit of maximizing treatment for each individual without compromising their immune system, improving treatment efficacy while reducing the risk of suffering serious infections.
The technology even has a wider application. It can be used in resource poor regions to detect acute infections, especially where HIV-associated bacterial co-infections are endemic. 4 billion people live in rural regions and currently have little or no access to testing for infections. A simple test like Leuko could significantly improve access to care, help millions around the world by diagnosing, better treat, and preventing diseases.
The startup was in 2015 named ‘Innovation of the Year’ by MIT Technology Review Spain, recently won the ‘Tech Innovation Award’ at Rice Business Plan Competition, and is now part of the MIT accelerator ‘MIT Delta V’. Leuko has been supported by what was previously Madrid-MIT M+Visión, now MIT linQ, as well as the Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care and the Coulter Foundation. The technology is currently undergoing clinical trials and the startup is aiming to have their product on the market in 2019.