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Portable Device Analyzes White Blood Cell Activity to Monitor Cancer Patients’ Health

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 21 Jun 2024

Chemotherapy and similar treatments aimed at eliminating cancer cells often adversely affect patients' immune cells. Each year, this results in tens of thousands of cancer patients suffering from weakened immune systems, making them susceptible to potentially fatal infections. Physicians are tasked with balancing the dosage of chemotherapy—enough to kill cancer cells but not so much as to dangerously reduce the patient’s white blood cell count, leading to neutropenia. This condition not only impacts health but can also lead to social isolation between chemotherapy sessions. Traditionally, monitoring of white blood cells has been limited to blood tests. Now, a new at-home white blood cell monitor offers doctors the ability to remotely monitor their patients’ health more comprehensively. This device, which avoids blood draws, uses light to scan the skin at the top of the fingernail and employs artificial intelligence (AI) to identify critically low levels of white blood cells.

Based on technology first conceived by researchers at MIT (Cambridge, MA, USA) in 2015, Leuko Labs (Boston, MA, USA) developed the device which has successfully enabled the detection of low white blood cell counts in hundreds of cancer patients without the need for blood withdrawal. Leuko’s device utilizes imaging technology focused on the capillaries just above the fingernail—a site already used by doctors to evaluate vascular health—to monitor white blood cell activity. In a 2019 study involving 44 patients, Leuko demonstrated its device’s capability to detect critically low white blood cell levels with minimal false positives. The product has since been advanced to a stage where it can be used by patients at home without supervision, providing vital immune system information directly to healthcare professionals.

Image: The finger-based test takes a minute to noninvasively capture enough information to evaluate white cell levels (Photo courtesy of Leuko Labs)
Image: The finger-based test takes a minute to noninvasively capture enough information to evaluate white cell levels (Photo courtesy of Leuko Labs)

Over the past four years, Leuko has collaborated with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to design studies that confirm the device's accuracy and ease of use by patients without medical training. Later this year, the company plans to initiate a pivotal study that will support its application for FDA approval. Once approved, Leuko anticipates that the device will not only become a standard tool for patient monitoring but will also assist doctors in optimizing cancer treatment regimens. The company’s founders expect their innovation to enhance care decisions and potentially extend its use to monitoring other health conditions. Furthermore, they envision future adaptations of the device to track additional biomarkers present in the blood.

“The long-term vision for the company is making this available to other patient populations that can also benefit from increased monitoring of their immune system. That includes patients with multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, organ transplants, and patients that are rushed into the emergency room,” said Leuko co-founder and CEO Carlos Castro-Gonzalez, a former postdoc at MIT. “We believe this could be a platform technology. We get these noninvasive videos of the blood flowing through the capillaries, so part of the vision for the company is measuring other parameters in the blood beyond white blood cells, including hemoglobin, red blood cells, and platelets. That’s all part of our roadmap for the future.”

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