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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K027115/1
Title: High-throughput Optical Blood Imaging for the Detection of Rare Cells using Ultrasonic Particle Alignment
Principal Investigator: Glynne-Jones, Dr P
Other Investigators:
Packham, Professor G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Leica Geosystems
Department: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment
Organisation: University of Southampton
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 30 September 2013 Ends: 29 December 2014 Value (£): 94,181
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Fluid Dynamics Medical Imaging
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Mar 2013 Engineering Prioritisation Meeting 11/12 March 2013 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Millions of blood samples are analysed in the NHS every year. A wide range of parameters are measured, however there are significant limitations with existing technologies, particularly those relating to the detection of rare cells and bacteria in the blood in a way that permits timely medical intervention.

Modern computers have the power to examine images of billions of blood cells, and flag up those of interest. However, taking images of the cells individually (as is done in some existing machines) is not fast enough, being limited to a few thousand cells per second. In this project we will flow a sample of blood through a tiny chamber and use ultrasound to align all the cells into a single sheet; this key step means that it will be possible for a microscope to take an image of thousands of the cells at once. In this way we predict it will be possible to image around 50,000 cells per second. Without this acoustic focussing, the cells would not all be in focus, and many would overlap with each other.

Working with our partners at Southampton hospital, we shall initially test our system by looking for cancer cells in the blood. Recent research has shown that individual cells from a cancer can become detached and enter the blood stream, and it is in this way that cancers spread to different areas of the body (metastasize). These cells are present in very small numbers - in 10 ml of blood even one tumour cell hidden amongst billions of normal cells could indicate a cancer. Later on in the project we will also consider looking at leukaemia cells, parasite infections (such as malaria), and potentially bacterial infections.

There are several challenges facing the project including creating an ultrasonic force field that is both strong and uniformly focussed, the difficulties of capturing images of the moving stream of blood cells without motion blur, and integrating the image processing to deal with the huge amounts of data that will be produced. The different applications we consider vary enormously in the challenge they present, ranging from the tiny and difficult to manipulate bacteria, through to the much more numerous malaria parasites inside red blood cells.

Given the huge potential health benefits of having our systems made widely available, we will work closely with industrial companies that have experience of creating diagnostic machines to bring our technology into widespread use as soon as possible. Into the future we see many further developments, including systems that are able to capture the rare cells as they are detected, and collaborative research projects with clinical scientists to use our devices to enable new insights into the workings of diseases.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Organisation Website: http://www.soton.ac.uk