Medical technology designed for use in outer space may soon enable doctors to make critical therapeutic decisions about Emergency Room patients within minutes instead of waiting for lab results that take days, thanks to an Israeli startup.

The breakthrough is a handheld device known as a flow cytometer that can diagnose life-threatening conditions such as sepsis within 20 minutes instead of the several days required for a lab culture diagnosis.

The portability and low-cost of the device also makes it especially suitable for monitoring diseases such as AIDS in developing countries.

The technology is being developed by LeukoDx, an Israeli startup based in Jerusalem that is part of the Cardio Ventures business accelerator, which specializes in medical devices and diagnostics.

The LeukoDx technology prototype was initiated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with the goal of developing a small, self-contained tool for detecting infections in astronauts.

During 2004-2008, NASA contracted the development work to the California Institute of Technology and IRIS International, a leading US diagnostics company.

One of LeukoDx’s founders, Dr. Harvey Kasdan, was the chief scientist at IRIS International during this time and became a co-inventor of several of the patents.

Getting a diagnosis on Sepsis early

When Kasdan left IRIS about a year ago and immigrated to Israel, he realized that the NASA project could solve many unmet medical diagnostic needs and had strong commercial potential. Together with a group of Israeli entrepreneurs, he founded LeukoDx, which has in-licensed the technology from NASA.

The LeukoDx point-of-care flow cytometer has the potential to be used for a wide range of diagnostics, including cancer testing, but the company decided to make its first priority the development of an application for diagnosing sepsis.

Each year about 18 million cases of sepsis are reported around the world. Sepsis is a devastating condition with a mortality rate of up to 50 percent. One of the main reasons that sepsis has such a high mortality rate is that the diagnosis is often made too late.

As the health of sepsis patients tends to deteriorate so rapidly, medical experts believe that therapeutic decisions made following a rapid diagnostic obtained within 15-20 minutes can be the difference between patient survival and death.

“LeukoDx’s flow cytometer will enable true point of care use and decision-making by giving doctors actionable information on site in 20 minutes or less,” Julien Meissonnier, president and CEO of LeukoDx, tells ISRAEL21c.

Another priority application in the works for the LeukoDx flow cytometer device involves monitoring AIDS for the estimated 33 million people now living with HIV.

A low-cost monitor for AIDS

Blood tests that indicate the AIDS patient’s CD4 T-cell count are currently the workhorse method for monitoring the effectiveness of treatments as well as updating the status of the immune system in AIDS patients.

However this testing currently requires the use of expensive central laboratory instruments and resources not usually available in many countries where AIDS is prevalent.

“We believe that our Micro flow handheld flow cytometer under development will be the ideal low cost solution way to provide on-going monitoring of the effectiveness of the combinations of drugs used in the treatment of AIDS in countries where medical facilities are sparse,” says Meissonnier.

He notes that the disposable cartridges used in the flow cytometer device will also minimize the risk of AIDS exposure for medical personnel.

LeukoDx expects to not only dramatically shorten the amount of time doctors require to make therapeutic decisions; it also expects to significantly cut equipment costs. Whereas standard lab flow cytometers today cost around $50,000 -100,000, the LeukoDx devices will be in the $10,000 range and use a disposable test cartridge.

Meissonnier estimates that the LeukoDx technology may take three more years of development before it hits the market in the US. However, he notes that the company expects to be able to accelerate development after it completes a current fundraising campaign of about $1 million.