The hemoglobin of our red blood cells carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body and is normally taken for granted until the level drops and anemia results. This may cause mild symptoms such as dizziness, tiredness and weakness or far more serious cardiac symptoms and even permanent cognitive deficits in children.
It is estimated that as much as one third of the world’s population are at risk of developing anemia. In the U.S., this translates to 85 million people being at risk while 5 million actually are affected. Managing anemia, requires the drawing of blood by a skilled phlebotomist, followed by analysis by a trained laboratory technician. Since all this requires specialized equipment, testing until now has been limited to hospitals, medical offices or laboratories. Further negatives may include the need for blood drawing on a periodic basis, which can sometimes be painful.
A just published study out of Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, reports on an at home, self-administered, inexpensive, disposable, simple plastic device that measures hemoglobin without even needing electricity. The study involved 238 adults and children with various levels of anemia who also underwent standard blood testing for comparison.
The device draws up a small drop of blood by capillary action, similar to the way a diabetic performs a finger stick. Exactly 5 micro liters of blood is mixed with a precise amount of a reagent solution to produce a characteristic color that is determined by the hemoglobin level. In less than a minute, test results are achieved by matching colors ranging from blue to red. For those who are color-blind or simply color-challenged, an optional smart phone app has been developed which estimates the hemoglobin level and can then transmit the information.
Individuals who will benefit most from hemoglobin home testing are those who require ongoing management of blood anemias, including sick-cell anemia, aplastic anemia and thalassemia. In addition, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, individuals with kidney failure and those with chronic inflammatory-immunologic disorders will also benefit.
The results of the FDA supported study demonstrated that the device has sensitivity levels greater than 90% in individuals with mild and severe anemia. While the device currently costs only half a dollar to produce, it still requires FDA approval and is expected not to make it to market shelves until 2016.
Photo shows the two parts of the anemia test device assembled.
Jacob J. Klausner