Scientists have invented a chip that can predict the risk of a cell storm


Cytokine storm is an uncontrolled immune response, which damages body tissues and can be fatal. Many COVID-19 victims die from this condition. Detecting and treating it is very difficult, because doctors usually cannot predict this in advance.

Now scientists from the University of Queensland have developed a device that can identify cytokine risks – this device will be useful in the COVID-19 response as well as cancer treatment.

This small slide packs the technology to sense the presence of cytokines, allowing clinicians to predict the risk of a cytokine storm. Image credit: The University of Queensland

Cytokines are small proteins that act as messengers between immune cells. It is very essential in a healthy immune response. However, in some cases, their reaction is uncontrolled and can cause massive amounts of damage through inflammation, caused by a vicious circle commonly called a cytokine storm. We hear about it nowadays due to COVID-19 deaths, but about 80% of cancer patients who receive immunotherapy are at higher risk of negative immune responses, such as a cytokine storm. It is for this reason that scientists in Australia developed this chip.

The chip in question is essentially a nano-biosensor, built from a small set of gold plumes and bound antibodies that bind to specific cytokines present in a blood sample as small as a single drop. This means that this chip is able to detect a faint but distinct pattern of cytokines, which can predict a cell storm several days before an event. The gold and silver particles in the chip emit a bright light when they capture the cytokine, which means that inexpensive optical imaging equipment is all they need to use these nanosensors. This means that they can be easily employed in remote hospitals as well, which is very important in cases of COVID-19 as well as in future epidemics.

Cytokine storms are difficult to treat. But knowing which patents are at greater risk will help medical professionals focus their resources more efficiently. Moreover, knowing that the risks are low will aid in deciding to reduce treatment. Knowing that a patient’s immune system is handling the infection appropriately is very important, so this delicate medical device can help with that. The immune storm chip is very small and presumably very portable in the future. Over time it will get much cheaper.

Small medical devices like this will be used fairly widely in the future. The precision of chip-making is really very high and our understanding of small biosensors is fairly advanced. We hope that medical biosensors will find their application in other medical fields as well, aiding our efforts to obtain accurate medical diagnosis and prognosis.

Source: The University of Queensland

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