Light used to quickly identify misshapen red blood cells

Automatically detect cells within seconds

Ordinarily, red blood cells should look like a disc with a medium-sized dimple on the top and bottom. If that dimple is either too large or too small, it can indicate the presence of a disease such as sickle cell anemia or malaria. Pathologists traditionally have had to examine blood samples under a microscope, manually looking for these misshapen cells. A new technique developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, uses light to automatically detect such cells within seconds.

Using a procedure known as Fourier Transform Light Scattering (FTLS), the researchers shined light on healthy, properly-shaped red blood cells, and analyzed how it scattered off of them. It turned out that the diameter and width of the dimples changed the light-scattering pattern significantly.

By applying a mathematical rule called the Born approximation, they were then able to determine what the scattering signature for healthy cells should look like. Now, when a blood sample is subjected to FTLS, pathologists should be able to quickly ascertain the state of its red cells, depending on whether or not it displays the right signature.

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