Automating Blood Smears

3D printed devices can speed up analysis and quality of blood smears for malaria diagnosis...
24 January 2022


Blood smear, blood cells


Blood smears are traditionally used to detect parasites in blood droplets but the procedure in analysing these is laborious and repetitive. Scientists from the University of Cambridge have developed an automated system, named AutoHaem Smear, to improve the preparation of blood smears. This study began by looking into how to improve throughput of blood smears and improve the quality of diagnosis specifically in malaria.

A droplet of blood is put on a microscopic slide, and then smeared with a second slide. Dr. McDermott mentions “Once you stain the blood smear you can see the actual malaria parasites in the blood cells”. AutoHaem is a device designed by McDermott and his colleagues and comes as either a mechanical device or an automated device. The mechanical device simply has a slot for the smearing slide and droplet slide. This means that the angle the smearing slide is placed at is consistent which is a factor key to producing a good blood smear. The user is then able to smear the slide by simply pulling a lever on the device and the smeared slide is ready to analyse! The automated system does the smearing for the user by pressing a button, however this requires electricity to operate. Now you may be wondering why not just use the automated system for consistent smearing? McDermott and his colleagues have considered that a lot of these devices will be used in rural areas which are likely to have interruptable power supply, hence the mechanical device was built. He mentions that by using this device, “Autohaem automates these tasks so that technicians can see more patients and we can give these patients better health outcomes."

I haven't even reached the best part, it can all be 3D printed. All the components of the mechanical device can be manufactured using a simple 3D printer, so in essence this could be done from the comfort of your own home... so long as you have a 3D printer.

The open source platform allows each user to use the original code for their device to work. Patents are restrictive to distributing new research and technology. With McDermott and his colleagues keeping this technology open source, could this trigger other research labs to do the same?


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