– Seemadri Subhadarshini
People afflicted with sickle cell anaemia (SCA) face life-threatening medical complications such as stroke and organ damage, and in some cases premature death. SCA occurs due to a mutation in a gene that makes the haemoglobin in red blood cells (RBCs) clump together, affecting the RBC morphology, and damages the blood capillaries and other organs. The abnormal gene gets passed on either from one parent – resulting in a condition termed Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) – or from both parents, leading to Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Existing diagnostic techniques are expensive, time-consuming and require specialised labs.
Researchers from the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics (IAP), IISc in collaboration with a clinician from Government Homeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Bhopal, have designed a rapid, low-cost, point-of-care method to test individuals with sickle cell anaemia. This single-step, point-of-care kit can detect both SCT and SCD using low-power portable systems.
The system relies on the characteristic property of the haemoglobin in a solution to absorb and transmit light. The team, led by Sai Siva Gorthi, Associate Professor at IAP, observed differences in the light absorption capacity between deoxygenated blood samples taken from people with SCT and SCD, as well as from healthy volunteers. In preliminary clinical trials, they tested their proposed system on 438 patient samples. The results showed high sensitivity (96.9%) and specificity (98.6%) when compared with benchmark techniques.
According to the researchers, the test takes only 15 minutes and is expected to cost less than Rs 100 per test. In the future, the team also aims to use this technique to detect sickle cell anaemia in infants and other haematological disorders in adults. The technology patent has been filed in India, US, and African regions and licensed by ShanMukha Innovations Pvt Ltd (an IISc startup) for commercialisation. Rajesh Srinivasan (PhD student) received the “Prof UR Rao Innovation Award” for this technology from the Karnataka Science and Technology Academy (KSTA), Bengaluru.
Srinivasan R, Christo VE, Kunnath RN, Katare P, Venukumar A, Nambison NK, Gorthi SS, Optical absorbance-based rapid test for the detection of sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease at the point-of-care, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy (2022).