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Case study: Piezo focus system enables portable cytometers, expands access to healthcare in resource-limited settings

A customer wanted to create a backpack-portable blood analyzer for use in resource-limited settings that do not have access to institutional laboratory instruments and services. New Scale’s miniature precision focus system helped to make it possible.

Blood analyzers are essential for detecting and monitoring disease and ensuring that patients receive appropriate treatment. Until recently, access to these tests was limited to benchtop instruments in hospitals and testing labs. These fixed systems, which cost more than $250K, require sophisticated sample preparation methods and rely on highly-trained operators.

New backpack-portable blood analyzers can provide accurate blood analysis in resource-limited settings. These smaller instruments dramatically increase patient access to advanced medical care and open new markets for the instrument manufacturers.

One portable IVD blood analyzer uses cytometry to measure the number of T-Cells (a type of white blood cell) per cubic millimeter of blood. This CD4 cell count test is an indicator of HIV infection.

One or two drops of blood are placed in a single-use reagent cartridge with microfluidic channels and pre-measured reagents. This creates a sample with a precise volume containing T-Cells modified for fluorescence detection. A miniature fluorescence microscope, with a digital camera and image processing, automatically detects and measures the T-Cells.

Accurate cell counting requires the microscope be focused precisely in the microfluidic channel volume. However, the microfluidic channel locations vary in the low-cost disposable cartridges. A miniature focusing system was needed.

Miniature focus system: Precise and easy to integrate

New Scale’s M3-F Focus Module provides the embedded focus system for the cytometer microscope. This tiny, self-contained module moves a lens in 0.5 micrometer increments to automatically adjust for variations in the cartridge dimensions.

“I love it! It was the fastest thing to integrate into the instrument,” said the systems engineer, referring to the M3-F Focus Module. “With the built-in controller, we simply treat the motion module as an ‘SPI slave.’ It saved us a great deal of time and effort.”

The CD4 cell count instrument is just one example of how New Scale’s embedded motion modules help companies create handheld, portable, mobile, and battery-powered instruments.

Many other blood tests are needed for patients in resource-limited settings. Future anticipated enhancements include larger-aperture microscopes for detecting smaller particles such as bacteria, viruses and proteins. These microscopes require heavier optics and improved motion precision.

New Scale initially created its M3-FS Focus Module as a custom solution to address more demanding cytometer measurements: moving heavier and larger-diameter advanced optics with less dynamic tilt.

“New Scale not only has impressive micro motion technology, they are an extremely responsive development partner,” said the project manager for the higher-resolution system. “No one else has been able to create motion systems this small, and work with us on enhancements to meet our special requirements.”

New Scale Technologies: Combining our best with your best

“New Scale’s embedded ‘all-in-one’ motion modules let our OEM partners concentrate on their unique competencies and easily integrate the required motion features,” said New Scale CEO David Henderson. “Our customers are experts in optics, fluorescence, imaging, microfluidics, biology, cytometry and so much more. We are experts in embedded precision motion that enables the highest performance in your miniaturized instrument design.”

“It has been exciting helping our partners use our micro motion modules to create disruptive features and open new market opportunities,” Henderson continued. “It is even more exciting to see our innovations helping millions of people receive better medical care.”

For more information

Standard M3-F and M3-FS focus modules

These complete motion modules fit easily inside portable instruments like the tiny cytometer. They move lenses in 0.5 micrometer increments over 1.5 mm. The modules operate from 3.3 VDC and require simple motion commands via I2C or SPI from the host processor. No separate electronics or high voltages are required.

Custom Engineering

We work with you to customize a standard M3 motion module or develop a full-custom integrated motion system. A fixed-fee feasibility study is an affordable way to quickly test your idea and get the hard data you need to drive product development decisions.

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