A study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that it is possible to detect signs of deadly, unpredictable sepsis infection from a single drop of blood and to demonstrate this capability they have also developed a new portable device.

The findings are based on a clinical study of the device The researchers tested the device with blood samples from patients in the ICU and emergency room. When a physician suspected infection and ordered a blood test, a small drop of the blood drawn was given to the researchers.

The device is the first to provide rapid, point-of-care measurement of the immune system’s response, without any need to process the blood. According to the team behind the device, it will be able to help┬ádoctors identify sepsis at its onset, monitor infected patients and could even point to a prognosis.

Sepsis is triggered by an infection in the body. The body’s immune system releases chemicals that fight the infection, but also cause widespread inflammation that can rapidly lead to organ failure and death. According to some estimates, sepsis strikes roughly 20 per cent of patients admitted to hospital intensive care units, yet it is difficult to predict the inflammatory response in time to prevent organ failure.

If a patient shows signs of being septic, the doctors try to identify the source of the infection with blood cultures and other tests that can take days – time the patient may not have. The new device takes a different approach. The small, lab-on-a-chip device counts white blood cells in total as well as specific white blood cells called neutrophils, and measures a protein marker called CD64 on the surface of neutrophils. The levels of CD64 surge as the patient’s immune response increases.

The team was able to monitor CD64 levels over time, correlating them with the patient’s vital signs. Researchers found that the results from the rapid test correlated well with the results from the traditional tests and with the patients’ vital signs.