Harvard researchers invent a 50-cent test for sickle cell disease in the developing world

A simple visual test developed in a lab at Harvard University is taking aim at sickle cell disease, a major public health concern for some developing countries. Unlike in the developed world, regular screening for the genetic blood disorder is not a common practice in Sub-Saharan Africa, where as many as 1 to 2 percent […]

A simple visual test developed in a lab at Harvard University is taking aim at sickle cell disease, a major public health concern for some developing countries.

Unlike in the developed world, regular screening for the genetic blood disorder is not a common practice in Sub-Saharan Africa, where as many as 1 to 2 percent of babies are born with it.

Researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about a density-based blood test they developed that they say could detect the presence of sickle cells in a sample in as little as 12 minutes, and for the cost of about 50 cents per test.

When red blood cells take the sickle, or crescent, shape they can clog blood vessels and cause life-threatening complications. But the disease can be managed if caught early, which is where this test would come into play. The researchers say it could help identify children with the disease before they develop symptoms and complications.

The test uses a centrifuge to spin a blood sample. Because sickle cells are more dense than normal red blood cells, they separate, the researchers say.

Read the paper here. Ashok Kumar, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University who worked on the test, also explained it in more detail in a post at The Conversation.

[Image & video credit: Harvard]