New chip may help doctors treat blood poisoning quickly

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: March 23rd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a severe and often life-threatening condition. If a doctor suspects a patient is suffering from the ailment, time is of the essence. If not treated quickly, bacteria can overwhelm a patient’s bloodstream. But prior to treatment, doctors must first take a blood sample and send it to a lab for analysis to confirm whether a patient is suffering from sepsis. But this protocol might soon change, thanks to the invention of a new biochip that can detect blood poisoning with a simple prick of a finger.

Patients experiencing sepsis produce certain proteins in their blood. The biochip works by pinpointing these proteins. A doctor places a drop of the patient’s blood on the chip and then rinses it with an antibody solution marked with fluorescent dye. The proteins that indicate sepsis will bind themselves to the chip and cause the dye to light up. If a patient does not have blood poisoning, the chip stays dark. The markers on the chip can also tell a doctor about the scope and severity of the illness.

This is an important discovery because more than 750,000 people in the United States get severe sepsis every year, and more than 200,000 people die from it. Those most at risk include the elderly, hospital patients and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include chills, fever, confusion or delirium, shaking and rapid heartbeat.

Experts have already tested prototypes of the chip and aim to make these devices affordable since they can only be used once. They speculate the same technology could eventually be used to detect the presence of other serious conditions, too, such as a heart attack or cancer.

And that’s news that should make us all feel a little more chipper.