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ANU develops new high-speed imaging tech

Image Credits: ANU, Press Release

New portable technology that visualises clots forming in flowing blood in a 3D holographic livestream promises to dramatically improve screening and treatment of stroke, heart attack and coronavirus-induced lung failure. Millions of people around the world die from heart attacks and strokes every year, and 2.5 million people have died due to coronavirus globally since the pandemic began.

In a world-first, the biomedical invention from The Australian National University (ANU) can measure a blood clot’s “stickiness” and “optically weigh” it, within a thousand millionth of a gram, to assess a person’s disease risk.

ANU biomedical imaging scientist and research leader Dr Steve Lee said this technology advances his team’s breakthrough 2018 prototype diagnostic device in two critical ways. His multidisciplinary team has expertise in imaging sciences, medicine and biochemistry.

“We can now measure the stickiness of the blood clot down to a single platelet and we’ve dramatically reduced the size of our invention so that it can fit on a small desk or bench space in a hospital or another healthcare setting,” Dr Lee from the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) said.

The new high-speed imaging technology, known as COSI (coherent optical scattering and interferometry), revealed in experiments how individual platelets “grip and walk” along a collagen fibre under blood flow.

Platelets, which are a tenth of the size of a regular cell and are the major drivers of blood clot formation, move much like a circus performer walking along on a high wire.

Dr Lee stated that existing imaging tools are too slow to capture single platelet actions before they clump together within seconds of being activated. He noted that COSI has a very fast and high-resolution imaging process with no labelling, so it can capture the behaviour of individual platelets before they clump together.

The breakthrough could be vital to study micro-blood clots in capillaries involved in lung failure related to COVID19, Dr Lee said.

Ms Yujie Zheng, the team’s lead PhD scholar, said seeing a platelet move in an orchestrated way within a developing blood clot, before suddenly freezing as she added a chemical inhibitor was a Eureka moment.

“That was a very exciting moment for us because we could see these nanoscale events happening for the first time in a clot forming before our eyes,” Ms Zheng said.

Dr Lee’s team has worked closely with JCSMR’s National Platelet Research and Referral Centre led by Professor Elizabeth Gardiner. The collaboration has already received competitive research funding totalling $1.8 million.

The team has now moved beyond the proof of principle and are trailing COSI on a variety of patient samples with NPRC medical researchers with the aim to commercialise the technology within two years.

Pushing MedTech in Australia

According to an article from July 2020, the federal government announced an investment of AU$18.8 million to fund the development of 21 new biomedical and medical technology projects. The funding is part of round three of the government’s AU$45 million BioMedTech Horizons program, an initiative designed to support the development of health technologies.

“Successful applicants will use the funding to develop medical devices – including wearable devices –telehealth and telemedicine, and digitally-enabled personalised medicine,” the Minister for Health had said.

He also noted that the government is supporting Australia’s world-class biomedical and medical technology sector for the benefit of all Australians while creating new jobs, growing expertise and building sustainable export markets.

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