27 Sep 2022
MIT spin-out is developing a microscope platform for label-free imaging of human blood cells as they flow through capillaries.
Leuko, a startup company established by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Madrid’s “M+Vision” consortium, has raised $5 million to help advance its optical system for counting white blood cells (WBCs).
The approach, which is able to image blood cells flowing through human capillaries in vivo without the use of fluorescent labels, could help with the side effects of cancer chemotherapy treatment.
Founded by Carlos Castro-González, Ian Butterworth, Aurelien Bourquard, and Alvaro Sanchez-Ferro, Leuko has developed a point-of-care optical system known as “PointCheck”. The company was also a finalist in the 2019 SPIE Startup Challenge that took place that year at Photonics West.
Thrilled to announce that we raised a $5m Series A led by HTH VC!— Leuko (@leuko) September 23, 2022
We're excited for the next chapter and how this investment will further accelerate bringing our #noninvasive solution for white blood cell monitoring to the hands of #cancer patients. 🚀https://t.co/XshyEqZZMV pic.twitter.com/Djm8CTRra2
While not yet approved for clinical use, PointCheck is said to make non-invasive blood testing easier, faster, and more accessible than state-of-the art solutions, with the potential to improve clinical outcomes for millions of cancer chemotherapy patients every year.
“Low WBC levels is one of the most common, as well as most devastating and costliest side effects of cancer chemotherapy,” said Castro-González, Leuko’s CEO.
“Clinical data indicates that as many as one out of every six chemotherapy patients suffer life-threatening infections and hospital readmissions directly linked to low WBCs.”
Leuko says that by remotely monitoring WBC levels before those infections appear would potentially reduce chemotherapy-related hospital readmissions by half, and save billions of dollars annually in healthcare costs in the US.
To use the system, patients would simply need to place their finger onto an internet-connected device for one minute each day. The device measures WBC levels without any need to draw a blood sample, and would send data to the patient's care team, allowing them to receive appropriate, preventative treatments as required.
Regulatory approval sought
Funding for the series A round comes from venture firms HTH VC, Good Growth Capital, IAG Capital Partners, and Nina Capital, as well as angel investors. The cash will be used to accelerate clinical trials to obtain regulatory approval, says Leuko.
The company is working with cancer treatment clinics including Boston Medical Center and MD Anderson in the US, and Dexeus and Hospital 12 de Octubre in Spain.
Michele Gaiotto, the CEO of lead investor HTH VC, said in a Leuko release: “We are excited to support Leuko as they scale and bring this clinically validated solution to the millions of patients who can live healthier lives through an increased monitoring of their weakened immune system.
“We believe that Leuko is building a strong team and technology platform and are honored to support its worthy mission.”
According to a paper published by the Leuko team in Nature Scientific Reports in 2018, the approach works by optical imaging of microcirculation in the nailfold - the base of the fingernail.
Castro-González and colleagues wrote that this study, which collected minute-long videos from 11 chemotherapy patients using a prototype system, represented the first proof-of-concept for a technology that could measure an important toxicity of chemotherapy by non-invasive optical means.
More recent publications include a Biomedical Optics Express paper introducing a scattering-contrast oblique plane microscope (sOPM) capable of label-free imaging of blood cells flowing through human capillaries in vivo.
According to that paper’s abstract, the sOPM works by illuminating a capillary bed with an oblique light sheet, and images side- and back- scattered signal from blood cells.
Synchronizing the sOPM with a conventional capillaroscope enabled the system to acquire paired widefield and axial images of blood cells flowing through a capillary loop, and is said to offer a promising new approach to imaging isolated red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
|American Journal of Hematology: Automated detection of neutropenia using noninvasive video microscopy of superficial capillaries|
|Biomedical Optics Express: Scattering oblique plane microscopy for in-vivo blood cell imaging|
|Nature Scientific Reports: Non-invasive detection of severe neutropenia in chemotherapy patients by optical imaging of nailfold microcirculation|