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Using Noninvasive Imaging Innovations to Determine White Blood Cell Count Among Cancer Patients

Low white blood cell count is a dangerous problem that can occur after chemotherapy treatment.  Last month, postdocs at the Madrid-MIT M+Vision Consortium released an algorithm that analyzes WBC count through an optical imaging device that records videos of microcirculation of nailfold capillaries. The images give patients an indication of whether or not they need medication to increase their WBC count.

A normal WBC count is 3,500-10,500, and any number under 1,000 is considered dangerous. According to the researchers, around 16 percent of cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy end up with an infection that leaves them hospitalized, often forcing them to forgo a needed chemotherapy treatment. Around 7 percent of cases end in death.

The Madrid-MIT team used a “wide-field microscope that emits blue light” to examine around 50-150 microns underneath the base of the fingernail to determine a broad range of the patient’s WBC count. They chose the nail region because that’s where the capillaries closest to the skin are located. It’s also easy to count the WBCs in the nailfold because the capillaries are so thin that WBCs can only go through one at a time.

“The automation, replication, and refinement of these results may lead to a new paradigm in the monitoring of cancer patients at risk of severe neutropenia,” wrote the researchers. “Furthermore, from a more general standpoint, the proposed imaging technique and conceptual approach could constitute one first step toward non-invasive, in-vivo WBC counting.”

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