Researchers in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University are working on an entirely new way to detect blood clots, especially in pediatric patients.
Unlike what a biology textbook may show, blood vessels are not straight cylinders. They are tortuous, meaning they have complex curves, spirals and bends. When the blood reaches these curves, it makes changes to its fluid mechanics and interactions with the vessel wall. In a healthy person, these changes are in harmony with the tortuous microenvironment, but when diseased, these environments could lead to very complex flow conditions that activate proteins and cells that eventually lead to blood clots.
Dr. Abhishek Jain, assistant professor, said a big challenge in medicine is the medical devices used to detect clots and assess anti-blood clotting drug effects are entirely chemistry-based.
“They do not incorporate the flow through the naturally turning and twisting blood vessels, which are physical regulators of blood clotting,” Jain said. “Therefore, the readouts from these current static systems are not highly predictive, and often result in false positives or false negatives.”
To approach the problem from a new angle, researchers in Jain’s lab at Texas A&M designed a microdevice that mimics tortuous blood vessels and created a diseased microenvironment in which blood may rapidly clot under flow. They showed this biomimetic blood clotting device could be used to design and monitor drugs that are given to patients who suffer from clotting disorders.
Jain said he can see several applications for the device, including critical care units and military trauma care units.
Current chemically based blood clotting tests are expensive, time-consuming, can be unreliable and require a skilled technician. Jain’s team’s tortuosity based microfluidic system doesn’t require expensive chemicals, is quick, with results within 10-15 minutes, uses low blood sample volume and is easy to operate.
“The margin for error is essentially zero for these patients,” Jain said. “Therefore, it’s imperative that all the tests, not just clotting tests, must work and provide clinicians with quick and reliable information about their patient so they can provide the best care possible.”