Hillel's Tech Corner: Bringing blood diagnostics home

COVID-19 has served as an accelerator for the adoption of healthcare improvements left on the sidelines for years.

PixCell Medical (photo credit: Courtesy)
PixCell Medical
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to a full blood test at your local clinic, or even at home?
As I write this, most of the world enters its third month of lockdown to stave off the coronavirus. These are trying times, with millions of people on unemployment, the markets and parents under immense pressure, and the educational system forced to prove its ability to function long-distance.
In fact, immunocompromised patients are actually instructed to stay put due to concern of exposure, and care is being given to them in their homes. Who could have ever imagined this scenario?
When it’s all behind us, we will wake up to a new reality, and a realization that the COVID-19 pandemic has also served as an accelerator for the adoption of healthcare improvements left on the sidelines for years. Healthcare is one of the few industries that will come out stronger. From artificial intelligence, to tele-medicine, to homecare and diagnostics, the onset of COVID-19 has boosted the adoption of innovation. How is that for a silver lining?
Several start-ups have made claims of being able to provide point-of-care (POC) blood tests. Some have even panned out to be widely regarded as scams. But none have shown the science to back up those claims that cutting-edge technology can truly change the way we do blood tests forever. As you know from my previous columns, there’s no substitute for science.
Obviously, cancer patients are a major part of the world’s population of immunocompromised patients. People who are undergoing chemotherapy are constantly required to have their blood checked as part of a standard procedure to ensure they are strong enough to handle treatment.
This currently means a trip to the clinic or hospital, a long wait and, of course, potential exposure to viruses and bacteria lurking outside. So the sick must risk additional exposure for the sake of getting better. That is somewhat counterproductive, I’d say.
Lucky for us all, the Israeli company PixCell Medical is addressing this paradoxical reality. The company offers a science-backed point-of-care solution for the world’s most common blood test – the complete blood count (CBC) – providing lab-quality precision with a small-sized, exceptionally simple diagnostic device.
With a single drop of blood and within six minutes, PixCell’s HemoScreen hematology analyzer provides fast and accurate analysis for the five-part differential CBC test, and insight on 20 standard blood-count parameters.
This means no more need to fill several vials with blood, no more waiting for results several days after the test and, perhaps most importantly, no need to have blood taken a hospital. Is it just me or have you also wondered why the standard blood test has not evolved since we were kids?
BEHIND THIS breakthrough technology is a team of hi-tech veterans who have already earned their stripes. Avishay Bransky, PhD, co-founder of PixCell, is an expert in microfluidics, with extensive industrial experience in applied physics, software and systems engineering.
Prior to his position at PixCell, Bransky led R&D projects at Elscint, Qualcomm and Trellis Photonics. He is one of the inventors of the Viscoelastic Focusing technique, cell analysis methods and the microfluidic-based cartridge that serve as the “secret sauce” of PixCell’s technology.
Also at the helm of this breakthrough company is Prof. Max Herzberg, co-founder and chairman of the board. He is a well-known scientist and entrepreneur in his own right, and one of the founding fathers of the Israel life-sciences industry.
Herzberg founded Orgenics and the EagerBio Group. He also served as chairman of several biotechnology companies in Israel and as chairman of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory Enterprise Management in Heidelberg, Germany. He currently also serves as the active chairman of Vidac Pharma.
Herzberg and Bransky are strengthened by Hanan Ben-Asher, an experienced business executive with expertise in multidisciplinary research and development, and a strong background in medical device development.
The company has received $20 million in funding to date, and PixCell’s peer-reviewed HemoScreen hematology analyzer is the only 5-part CBC that is FDA-cleared for point-of-care use. HemoScreen provides a simple-to-use, small footprint diagnostic device for POC use at a low cost, making CBC analysis and abnormal cell flagging accessible when rapid results are needed most.
So why is it important to rapidly identify abnormal cells in your bloodstream? The answer takes two words, and they are the key to so much in healthcare: early detection.
The HemoScreen’s high sensitivity and abnormal cell flagging capability enable earlier detection of complex diseases (leukemias, lymphomas and other cancers and infections), allowing faster diagnosis and treatment, setting the stage for improved patient outcomes. PixCell leverages its patented Viscoelastic Focusing technology, along with AI-powered machine-learning, to deliver rapid point-of-care diagnostic results anywhere.
The combination of PixCell Medical’s technology and its patented Viscoelastic Focusing enables quick high-resolution sample analysis and cell differentiation. Its disposable “lab on a cartridge” technology enables automatic sample preparation, so no reagent or sample handling is required, and risks of contamination are eliminated.
Of course, to the patient it’s just a matter of whether it works, and if it’s easy to use, which is why it is so significant that PixCell’s blood sampling and analysis can be administered by non-technical operators.
Its three-step process that provides lab-accurate results can therefore be used in care settings ranging from rural clinics to ICU wards, infusion centers and your local doctor’s office. The system is currently being tested for potential use in the home, which could save health systems money and time while improving the speed and quality of care for patients no matter where they live.
In fact, PixCell’s disruptive technology enables blood scanning in a resolution higher than even the most advanced lab analyzers at a fraction of the time and cost.
Adding the ability to detect abnormal cells that are indicative of cancers and other severe health disorders, PixCell’s accessible point-of-care diagnostic technology is positioned well to transform healthcare outcomes.
HemoScreen’s high sensitivity and abnormal cell flagging capability enables earlier detection of complex diseases, allowing for faster diagnosis and treatment, setting the stage for improved patient outcomes. And as PixCell reduces diagnostic turnaround time from days to minutes, it strengthens the impact of CBC testing for situations when timing is everything.
This company, its FDA validation and the technology that powers its capabilities have me quite optimistic about the future of early detection and treatment for the most vulnerable among us.