CAMBRIDGE, MA – Patients with cancer, sickle cell or autoimmune disease, among other illnesses, require specialized blood treatments such as apheresis, which have traditionally involved large, cumbersome centrifuge machines that separate blood to separate out problematic components. This invasive process often creates a lengthy and exhausting experience for the patient.
Draper and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers have developed a smaller, more efficient apheresis method to remove blood from the patient’s body, separate it into components, remove diseased cells or plasma and return the healthy blood to the patient. Draper’s technology uses ultrasound implemented on a microfluidic chip to separate diseased blood components from healthy ones before returning the cleaned blood to the body. Draper is the first company to separate blood using acoustics on a safe, cost-effective, disposable plastic device.
“Existing methods are very disruptive to the patient, costly and time-consuming,” explained Jason Fiering, principal engineer at Draper. “Each procedure can take 4-5 hours with and the treatment often has to be repeated several times.”
“Clinicians have grown accustomed to the limitation of current apheresis technology,” said Dr. William Savage, Medical Director of Apheresis in the BWH Department of Pathology. “Our goal is to demonstrate how this new approach to apheresis can improve care.”
Current blood cell separation methods are especially problematic for children, particularly infants, because the machines take a lot of blood out of the patient at one time. “Newborns can’t tolerate the volume of blood removed,” said Fiering. “Draper’s solution overcomes that problem—reducing the amount of blood volume removed from the body at one time by up to 80 percent—in turn providing clinicians with a broader array of therapeutic options for treating infants.”
Draper invested roughly two years of independent research and development on the acoustic apheresis technology before partnering with researchers and clinicians from BWH. The device has potential applicability to more than 80 diseases, ranging from leukemia to lupus.
Recently, the device was one of two projects to receive a grant from the BWH Health and Technology Innovation Fund, because of its potential for near term impact on patients.
Savage is working with Draper on ways to continue to advance the technology to improve blood treatments. Currently, the functionality has been demonstrated as a single module, which enables blood to flow at a small scale. With the grant funding, Savage and Draper will be able to design and test a multichannel device to achieve the blood flow rates needed for pediatric therapy.
“The goal of the lab testing was to demonstrate acoustic separation of whole blood, and the technology achieved a 98 percent separation efficiency of cells from plasma,” said Fiering. “During the next phase of the project, our goal is to scale up to process a greater volume of blood with the technology handling more throughput with multiple channels on a device. We believe this technology will improve patient safety and reduce apheresis costs.”