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Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Microscopy, Technology, Clinical

One Drop Is All It Takes

Looking to mine more health information from more people – and much more easily, researchers from Stanford University have developed a strategy that combines multi omic profiling from a series of blood samples with physiological measurements from wearable sensors (1). Rather than using traditional blood draws, the potential of the approach relies on the notion that a microsampling device and 10 μl of blood is all it takes to measure thousands of metabolites, lipids, cytokines, and proteins. Sound familiar?

“It’s Theranos that works,” quipped Michael Snyder – Stanford W. Ascherman Professor of Genetics at Stanford and corresponding author of the paper – according to an article in USA Today (2). But how does it work? Well, it relies on lab-based mass spec.

“Mass spectrometry has gotten much faster and more convenient, and we can now measure thousands of analytes in a small blood droplet,” says Snyder. “This analysis gives a much clearer picture of a patient’s immune function, inflammation, metabolic markers, and overall health.”

Indeed, the approach could allow scientists to ask interesting questions about the impact of lifestyle on health; for example, how the persistence of caffeine may correlate with sleep quality or how people respond to a nutrient shake. “Interestingly, some people had a proinflammatory response and others had an anti-inflammatory response to the exact same shake,” says Snyder, reminding us of some healthcare buzzwords – precision and personalized medicine. Snyder believes that, in addition to answering very interesting research questions, the strategy will open the door to more large-scale biomarker discovery, monitoring, and health profiling. As for the Stanford team, further studies are underway, including research into chronic fatigue syndrome.

As with any new technology, there is scope to evolve the strategy: “There will be additional improvements in stability and sensitivity, allowing the device to follow many more molecules,” says Snyder. But, while his team is busy working away, he wants diagnostic professionals to know this type of testing is coming. “It will be more powerful than what is measured in a physician’s office,” he says. “I believe that at-home testing will become common.”

Snyder concludes with a thought-provoking prediction: “Healthcare will be ‘Amazonized.’” 

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  1. X Shen et al., Nat Biomed (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-022-00999-8.
  2. USA Today News, “A geneticist studied one drop of his blood – and saw things he couldn’t from a vial of blood” (2023). Available at: https://rb.gy/c4my2 
About the Author
Jessica Allerton

Associate Editor, The Analytical Scientist

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