Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

New evidence suggests a mechanism by which progressive accumulation of Tau protein in brain cells may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists studied more than 600 human brains and fruit fly models of Alzheimer’s disease and found the first evidence of a strong link between Tau protein within neurons and the activity of particular DNA sequences called transposable elements, which might trigger neurodegeneration. The study appears in the journal Cell Reports.

“One of the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of Tau protein within brain cells, in combination with progressive cell death,” said corresponding author Dr. Joshua Shulman, associate professor of neurology, neuroscience and molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and investigator at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. “In this study we provide novel insights into how accumulation of Tau protein may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although scientists have studied for years what happens when Tau forms aggregates inside neurons, it still is not clear why brain cells ultimately die. One thing that scientists have noticed is that neurons affected by Tau accumulation also appear to have genomic instability.

“Genomic instability refers to an increased tendency to have alterations in the genetic material, DNA, such as mutations or other impairments. This means that the genome is not functioning correctly. Genomic instability is known to be a major driving force behind other diseases such as cancer,” Shulman said. “Our study focused on a new possible causal connection between Tau accumulation within neurons and the resulting genomic instability in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Enter transposable elements
Previous studies of brain tissues from patients with other neurologic diseases and of animal models have suggested that the neurons not only present with genomic instability, but also with activation of transposable elements.

“Transposable elements are short pieces of DNA that do not seem to contribute to the production of proteins that make cells function. They behave in a way similar to viruses; they can make copies of themselves that are inserted within the genome and this can create mutations that lead to disease,” Shulman said. “Although most transposable elements are dormant or dysfunctional, some may become active in human brains late in life or in disease. That’s what led us to look specifically at Alzheimer’s disease and the possible association between Tau accumulation and activated transposable elements.”

Shulman and his colleagues began their investigations by studying more than 600 human brains from a population study run by co-author Dr. David Bennett at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. This population study follows participants throughout their lives and at death, allowing the researchers to examine their brains in detail postmortem. One of the evaluations is the amount of Tau accumulation across many brain regions. In addition, co-author Dr. Philip De Jager at the Broad Institute and Columbia University comprehensively profiled gene expression in the same brains.

“With this large amount of data, we looked to identify signatures of active transposable elements, but this was not easy,” Shulman said. “We therefore reached out to Dr. Zhandong Liu, a co-author in this study, and together we developed a new software tool to detect signatures of active transposable elements from postmortem human brains. Then we conducted a statistical analysis in which we compared the amount of active transposable elements signatures with the amount of Tau accumulation, brain by brain.” Liu also is assistant professor of pediatrics – neurology at Baylor and a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The researchers found a strong link between the amount of Tau accumulation in neurons and detectable activity of transposable elements.

“We identified individual transposable elements that were active when Tau aggregates were present. Surprisingly, we also found evidence that the activation of transposable elements was quite broad across the genome,” Shulman said.

Other research has shown that Tau may disrupt the tightly packed architecture of the genome. It is believed that tightly packed DNA limits gene activation, while opening up the DNA may promote it. Keeping the DNA tightly packed may be an important mechanism to suppress the activity of transposable elements that lead to disease.

“The fact that Tau aggregates can affect that architecture of the genome may be one possible mechanism by which transposable elements are activated in Alzheimer’s disease,” Shulman said. “However, our studies in human brains only establish an association between Tau accumulation and activation of transposable elements. To determine whether Tau accumulation could in fact cause transposable element activation, we conducted studies with a fruit fly model of Alzheimer’s disease.”

In this fruit fly model of the disease, the researchers found that triggering Tau changes similar to those observed in human brains resulted in the activation of fruit fly transposable elements, strongly suggesting that Tau aggregates that disrupt the architecture of the genome can potentially mediate the activation of transposable elements and ultimately cause neurodegeneration.

“We think our experiments reveal new and potentially important insights relevant for understanding Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms,” Shulman said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but by presenting our results we hope we can stimulate others in the research community to help work on this problem.”

https://www.bcm.edu/news/neurology/research-links-tau-aggregates-cell-death

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Scientists have revealed a new link between alcohol, heart health and our genes.

The researchers investigated faulty versions of a gene called titin which are carried by one in 100 people or 600,000 people in the UK.

Titin is crucial for maintaining the elasticity of the heart muscle, and faulty versions are linked to a type of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy.

Now new research suggests the faulty gene may interact with alcohol to accelerate heart failure in some patients with the gene, even if they only drink moderate amounts of alcohol.

The research was carried out by scientists from Imperial College London, Royal Brompton Hospital, and MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, and published this week in the latest edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study was supported by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Wellcome Trust through the Health Innovation Challenge Fund.

In the first part of the study, the team analysed 141 patients with a type of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM). This condition is triggered by drinking more than 70 units a week (roughly seven bottles of wine) for five years or more. In severe cases the condition can be fatal, or leave patients requiring a heart transplant.

The team found that the faulty titin gene may also play a role in the condition. In the study 13.5 per cent of patients were found to carry the mutation – much higher than the proportion of people who carry them in the general population.

These results suggest this condition is not simply the result of alcohol poisoning, but arises from a genetic predisposition – and that other family members may be at risk too, explained Dr James Ware, study author from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial.

“Our research strongly suggests alcohol and genetics are interacting – and genetic predisposition and alcohol consumption can act together to lead to heart failure. At the moment this condition is assumed to be simply due to too much alcohol. But this research suggests these patients should also be checked for a genetic cause – by asking about a family history and considering testing for a faulty titin gene, as well as other genes linked to heart failure,” he said.

He added that relatives of patients with ACM should receive assessment and heart scans – and in some cases have genetic tests – to see if they unknowingly carry the faulty gene.

In a second part of the study, the researchers investigated whether alcohol may play a role in another type of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This condition causes the heart muscle to become stretched and thin, and has a number of causes including viral infections and certain medications. The condition can also be genetic, and around 12 per cent of cases of DCM are thought to be linked to a faulty titin gene.

In the study the team asked 716 patients with dilated cardiomyopathy how much alcohol they consumed.

None of the patients consumed the high-levels of alcohol needed to cause ACM. But the team found that in patients whose DCM was caused by the faulty titin gene, even moderately increased alcohol intake (defined as drinking above the weekly recommended limit of 14 units), affected the heart’s pumping power.

Compared to DCM patients who didn’t consume excess alcohol (and whose condition wasn’t caused by the faulty titin gene), excess alcohol was linked to reduction in heart output of 30 per cent.

More research is now needed to investigate how alcohol may affect people who carry the faulty titin gene, but do not have heart problems, added Dr Paul Barton, study co-author from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial:

“Alcohol and the heart have a complicated relationship. While moderate levels may have benefits for heart health, too much can cause serious cardiac problems. This research suggests that in people with titin-related heart failure, alcohol may worsen the condition.

“An important wider question is also raised by the study: do mutations in titin predispose people to heart failure when exposed to other things that stress the heart, such as cancer drugs or certain viral infections? This is something we are actively seeking to address.”

The research was supported by the Department of Health and Social Care and Wellcome Trust through the Health Innovation Challenge Fund, the Medical Research Council, the NIHR Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and the British Heart Foundation.

Reference: Ware, J. S., Amor-Salamanca, A., Tayal, U., Govind, R., Serrano, I., Salazar-Mendiguchía, J., … Garcia-Pavia, P. (2018). Genetic Etiology for Alcohol-Induced Cardiac Toxicity. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 71(20), 2293–2302. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2018.03.462

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By Alina Bradford

Blood sugar, or glucose, is the main sugar found in blood. The body gets glucose from the food we eat. This sugar is an important source of energy and provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles and nervous system. The absorption, storage and production of glucose is regulated constantly by complex processes involving the small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Glucose enters the bloodstream after a person has eaten carbohydrates. The endocrine system helps keep the bloodstream’s glucose levels in check using the pancreas. This organ produces the hormone insulin, releasing it after a person consumes protein or carbohydrates. The insulin sends excess glucose in the liver as glycogen.

The pancreas also produces a hormone called glucagon, which does the opposite of insulin, raising blood sugar levels when needed. The two hormones work together to keep glucose balanced.

When the body needs more sugar in the blood, the glucagon signals the liver to turn the glycogen back into glucose and release it into the bloodstream. This process is called glycogenolysis.

When there isn’t enough sugar to go around, the liver hoards the resource for the parts of the body that need it, including the brain, red blood cells and parts of the kidney. For the rest of the body, the liver makes ketones , which breaks down fat to use as fuel. The process of turning fat into ketones is called ketogenesis. The liver can also make sugar out of other things in the body, like amino acids, waste products and fat byproducts.

Glucose vs. dextrose
Dextrose is also a sugar. It’s chemically identical to glucose but is made from corn and rice, according to Healthline. It is often used as a sweetener in baking products and in processed foods. Dextrose also has medicinal purposes. It is dissolved in solutions that are given intravenously to increase a person’s blood sugar levels.

Normal blood sugar
For most people, 80 to 99 milligrams of sugar per deciliter before a meal and 80 to 140 mg/dl after a meal is normal. The American Diabetes Association says that most nonpregnant adults with diabetes should have 80 to 130 mg/dl before a meal and less than 180 mg/dl at 1 to 2 hours after beginning the meal.

These variations in blood-sugar levels, both before and after meals, reflect the way that the body absorbs and stores glucose. After you eat, your body breaks down the carbohydrates in food into smaller parts, including glucose, which the small intestine can absorb.

Problems
Diabetes happens when the body lacks insulin or because the body is not working effectively, according to Dr. Jennifer Loh, chief of the department of endocrinology for Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii. The disorder can be linked to many causes, including obesity, diet and family history, said Dr. Alyson Myers of Northwell Health in New York.

“To diagnose diabetes, we do an oral glucose-tolerance test with fasting,” Myers said.

Cells may develop a tolerance to insulin, making it necessary for the pancreas to produce and release more insulin to lower your blood sugar levels by the required amount. Eventually, the body can fail to produce enough insulin to keep up with the sugar coming into the body.

It can take decades to diagnose high blood-sugar levels, though. This may happen because the pancreas is so good at its job that a doctor can continue to get normal blood-glucose readings while insulin tolerance continues to increase, said Joy Stephenson-Laws, founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH Labs), a nonprofit that provides health care education and tools. She also wrote “Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy” (Proactive Health Labs, 2016).

Health professionals can check blood sugar levels with an A1C test, which is a blood test for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This test measures your average blood glucose, or blood sugar, level over the previous three months.

Doctors may use the A1C alone or in combination with other diabetes tests to make a diagnosis. They also use the A1C to see how well you are managing your diabetes. This test is different from the blood sugar checks that people with diabetes do for themselves every day.

In the condition called hypoglycemia, the body fails to produce enough sugar. People with this disorder need treatment when blood sugar drops to 70 mg/dL or below. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of hypoglycemia can be:

Tingling sensation around the mouth
Shakiness
Sweating
An irregular heart rhythm
Fatigue
Pale skin
Crying out during sleep
Anxiety
Hunger
Irritability


Keeping blood sugar in control

Stephenson-Laws said healthy individuals can keep their blood sugar at the appropriate levels using the following methods:

Maintaining a healthy weight

Talk with a competent health care professional about what an ideal weight for you should be before starting any kind of weight loss program.

Improving diet

Look for and select whole, unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, instead of highly processed or prepared foods. Foods that have a lot of simple carbohydrates, like cookies and crackers, that your body can digest quickly tend to spike insulin levels and put additional stress on the pancreas. Also, avoid saturated fats and instead opt for unsaturated fats and high-fiber foods. Consider adding nuts, vegetables, herbs and spices to your diet.

Getting physical

A brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can greatly reduce blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

Getting mineral levels checked

Research also shows that magnesium plays a vital role in helping insulin do its job. So, in addition to the other health benefits it provides, an adequate magnesium level can also reduce the chances of becoming insulin-tolerant.

Get insulin levels checked

Many doctors simply test for blood sugar and perform an A1C test, which primarily detects prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Make sure you also get insulin checks.

https://www.livescience.com/62673-what-is-blood-sugar.html#?utm_source=ls-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=05272018-ls


Researching tuberous sclerosis from the left are Adelaide Hebert, M.D.; John Slopis, M.D.; Mary Kay Koenig, M.D.; Joshua Samuels, M.D., M.P.H.; and Hope Northrup, M.D. PHOTO CREDIT Maricruz Kwon, UTHealth

Addressing a critical issue for people with a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), doctors at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) reported that a skin cream containing rapamycin significantly reduced the disfiguring facial tumors affecting more than 90 percent of people with the condition.

Findings of the multicenter, international study involving 179 people with tuberous sclerosis complex appear in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

“People with tuberous sclerosis complex want to look like everyone else,” said Mary Kay Koenig, M.D., the study’s lead author, co-director of the Tuberous Sclerosis Center of Excellence and holder of the Endowed Chair of Mitochondrial Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “And, they can with this treatment.”

Tuberous sclerosis complex affects about 50,000 people in the United States and is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of non-cancerous tumors throughout the body.

While benign tumors in the kidney, brain and other organs pose the greater health risk, the tumors on the face produce a greater impact on a patient’s daily life by making them look different from everyone else, Koenig said.

Koenig’s team tested two compositions of facial cream containing rapamycin and a third with no rapamycin. Patients applied the cream at bedtime for six months.

“Eighty percent of patients getting the study drug experienced a significant improvement compared to 25 percent of those getting the mixture with no rapamycin,” she said.

“Angiofibromas on the face can be disfiguring, they can bleed and they can negatively impact quality of life for individuals with TSC,” said Kari Luther Rosbeck, president and CEO of the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

“Previous treatments, including laser surgery, have painful after effects. This pivotal study and publication are a huge step toward understanding the effectiveness of topical rapamycin as a treatment option. Further, it is funded by the TSC Research Program at the Department of Defense. We are so proud of this research,” Rosbeck said.

Rapamycin is typically given to patients undergoing an organ transplant. When administered by mouth, rapamycin suppresses the immune system to make sure the organ is not rejected.

Rapamycin and tuberous sclerosis complex are linked by a protein called mTOR. When it malfunctions, tuberous sclerosis complex occurs. Rapamycin corrects this malfunction.

Rapamycin was initially used successfully to treat brain tumors caused by tuberous sclerosis complex, so researchers decided to try it on TSC-related facial tumors. Building on a 2010 pilot study on the use of rapamycin to treat TSC-related facial tumors, this study confirmed that a cream containing rapamycin shrinks these tumors.

As the drug’s toxicity is a concern when taken by mouth, researchers were careful to check for problems tied to its use on the skin. “It looks like the medication stays on the surface of the skin. We didn’t see any appreciable levels in the bloodstreams of those participating in the study,” Koenig said.

The Topical Rapamycin to Erase Angiofibromas in TSC – Multicenter Evaluation of Novel Therapy or TREATMENT trial involved 10 test sites including one in Australia.

Koenig said additional studies are needed to gauge the long-term impact of the drug, the optimal dosage and whether the facial cream should be a combined with an oral treatment.

Koenig’s coauthors include Adelaide Hebert, M.D.; Joshua Samuels, M.D., M.P.H.; John Slopis, M.D.; Cynthia S. Bell; Joan Roberson, R.N.; Patti Tate; and Hope Northrup, M.D. All are from McGovern Medical School at UTHealth with the exception of Slopis, who is with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Hebert is also on the faculty of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Northrup on the faculty of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The study was supported in part by the United States Department of Defense grant DOD TSCRP CDMRP W81XWH-11-1-0240 and by the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance of Australia.

“The face is our window to the world and when you look different from everyone else, it impacts your confidence and your ability to interact with others. This treatment will help those with TSC become more like everyone else,” Koenig said.

https://www.uth.edu/media/story.htm?id=37af25df-14a2-4c5e-b1ee-ac9585946aa0


Researchers at the University of Minnesota use a customized 3D printer to print electronics on a real hand. Image: McAlpine group, University of Minnesota

Soldiers are commonly thrust into situations where the danger is the unknown: Where is the enemy, how many are there, what weaponry is being used? The military already uses a mix of technology to help answer those questions quickly, and another may be on its way. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a low-cost 3D printer that prints sensors and electronics directly on skin. The development could allow soldiers to directly print temporary, disposable sensors on their hands to detect such things as chemical or biological agents in the field.

The technology also could be used in medicine. The Minnesota researchers successfully used bioink with the device to print cells directly on the wounds of a mouse. Researchers believe it could eventually provide new methods of faster and more efficient treatment, or direct printing of grafts for skin wounds or conditions.

“The concept was to go beyond smart materials, to integrate them directly on to skin,” says Michael McAlpine, professor of mechanical engineering whose research group focuses on 3D printing functional materials and devices. “It is a biological merger with electronics. We wanted to push the limits of what a 3D printer can do.”

McAlpine calls it a very simple idea, “One of those ideas so simple, it turns out no one has done it.”

Others have used 3D printers to print electronics and biological cells. But printing on skin presented a few challenges. No matter how hard a person tries to remain still, there always will be some movement during the printing process. “If you put a hand under the printer, it is going to move,” he says.

To adjust for that, the printer the Minnesota team developed uses a machine vision algorithm written by Ph.D. student Zhijie Zhu to track the motion of the hand in real time while printing. Temporary markers are placed on the skin, which then is scanned. The printer tracks the hand using the markers and adjusts in real time to any movement. That allows the printed electronics to maintain a circuit shape. The printed device can be peeled off the skin when it is no longer needed.

The team also needed to develop a special ink that could not only be conductive but print and cure at room temperature. Standard 3D printing inks cure at high temperatures of 212 °F and would burn skin.

In a paper recently published in Advanced Materals, the team identified three criteria for conductive inks: The viscosity of the ink should be tunable while maintaining self-supporting structures; the ink solvent should evaporate quickly so the device becomes functional on the same timescale as the printing process; and the printed electrodes should become highly conductive under ambient conditions.

The solution was an ink using silver flakes to provide conductivity rather than particles more commonly used in other applications. Fibers were found to be too large, and cure at high temperatures. The flakes are aligned by their shear forces during printing, and the addition of ethanol to the mix increases speed of evaporation, allowing the ink to cure quickly at room temperature.

“Printing electronics directly on skin would have been a breakthrough in itself, but when you add all of these other components, this is big,” McAlpine says.

The printer is portable, lightweight and cost less than $400. It consists of a delta robot, monitor cameras for long-distance observation of printing states and tracking cameras mounted for precise localization of the surface. The team added a syringe-type nozzle to squeeze and deliver the ink

Furthering the printer’s versatility, McAlpine’s team worked with staff from the university’s medical school and hospital to print skin cells directly on a skin wound of a mouse. The mouse was anesthetized, but still moved slightly during the procedure, he says. The initial success makes the team optimistic that it could open up a new method of treating skin diseases.

“Think about what the applications could be,” McAlpine says. “A soldier in the field could take the printer out of a pack and print a solar panel. On the cellular side, you could bring a printer to the site of an accident and print cells directly on wounds, speeding the treatment. Eventually, you may be able to print biomedical devices within the body.”

In its paper, the team suggests that devices can be “autonomously fabricated without the need for microfabrication facilities in freeform geometries that are actively adaptive to target surfaces in real time, driven by advances in multifunctional 3D printing technologies.”

Besides the ability to print directly on skin, McAlpine says the work may offer advantages over other skin electronic devices. For example, soft, thin, stretchable patches that stick to the skin have been fitted with off-the-shelf chip-based electronics for monitoring a patient’s health. They stick to skin like a temporary tattoo and send updates wirelessly to a computer.

“The advantage of our approach is that you don’t have to start with electronic wafers made in a clean room,” McAlpine says. “This is a completely new paradigm for printing electronics using 3D printing.”

http://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/researchers-3d-print-skin-breakthrough


Adipose Connective Tissue Stores Fat in Our Body. Credit: Berkshire Community College Bioscience Image Library

A new technique to study fat stores in the body could aid efforts to find treatments to tackle obesity.

The approach focuses on energy-burning tissues found deep inside the body – called brown fat – that help to keep us warm when temperatures drop.

Experts are aiming to find it this calorie-burning power can be harnessed to stop weight gain, but little is known about how the process works.

Previous studies have mainly relied on a medical imaging technique called PET/CT to watch brown fat in action deep inside the body. But the method is unable to directly measure the chemical factors in the tissue.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh developed a technique called microdialysis to measure how brown fat generates heat in people.

The approach involves inserting a small tube into an area of brown fat in the body and flushing it with fluid to collect a snapshot of the tissues’ chemical make-up.

The team tested the technique in six healthy volunteers, using PET/CT to guide the tube to the right location.

They discovered that in cold conditions, brown fat uses its own energy stores and other substances to generate heat.

Brown fat was active under warm conditions too, when the body does not need to generate its own heat, an outcome that had not been seen before.

Researchers hope the technique will help them to analyse the specific chemicals involved, so that they can better understand how brown fat works.

Most of the fat in our body is white fat, which is found under the skin and surrounding internal organs. It stores excess energy when we consume more calories than we burn.

Brown fat is mainly found in babies and helps them to stay warm. Levels can decrease with age but adults can still have substantial amounts of it, mainly in the neck and upper back region. People who are lean tend to have more brown fat.

The study, published in Cell Metabolism, was funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome.

Lead researcher Dr Roland Stimson, of the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Understanding how brown fat is activated could reveal potential targets for therapies that boost its energy-burning power, which could help with weight loss.”

This article has been republished from materials provided by the University of Edinburgh. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

Reference: Weir, G., Ramage, L. E., Akyol, M., Rhodes, J. K., Kyle, C. J., Fletcher, A. M., … Stimson, R. H. (2018). Substantial Metabolic Activity of Human Brown Adipose Tissue during Warm Conditions and Cold-Induced Lipolysis of Local Triglycerides. Cell Metabolism, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2018.04.020

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Chemist Vincent Rotello at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with colleagues at University College London (UCL), U.K., announce today that they have developed a “quick and robust” blood test that can detect liver damage before symptoms appear, offering what they hope is a significant advance in early detection of liver disease. Details appear in Advanced Materials.

Their new method can detect liver fibrosis, the first stage of liver scarring that can lead to fatal disease if left unchecked, from a blood sample in 30-45 minutes, the authors note. They point out that liver disease is a leading cause of premature mortality in the United States and U.K., and is rising. It often goes unnoticed until late stages of the disease when the damage is irreversible.

For this work, Rotello and his team at UMass Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) designed a sensor that uses polymers coated with fluorescent dyes that bind to blood proteins based on their chemical processes. The dyes change in brightness and color, offering a different signature or blood protein pattern.

He says, “This platform provides a simple and inexpensive way of diagnosing disease with potential for both personal health monitoring and applications in developing parts of the world.” Rotello and colleagues hope the new test can be used routinely in medical offices, clinics and hospitals to screen people with elevated liver disease risk so they can be treated “before it’s too late.”

The UCL team tested the sensor by comparing results from small blood samples equivalent to finger-prick checks from 65 people, in three balanced groups of healthy patients and among those with early-stage and late-stage fibrosis. This was determined using the Enhanced Liver Fibrosis (ELF) test, the existing benchmark for liver fibrosis detection. They found that the sensor identified different protein-level patterns in the blood of people in the three groups. The ELF test requires samples to be sent away to a lab.

Co-author William Peveler, a chemist now at the University of Glasgow, adds, “By comparing the different samples, the sensor array identified a ‘fingerprint’ of liver damage. It’s the first time this approach has been validated in something as complex as blood, to detect something as important as liver disease.”

The investigators report that the test distinguished fibrotic samples from healthy blood 80 percent of the time, reaching the standard threshold of clinical relevance on a widely-used metric and comparable to existing methods of diagnosing and monitoring fibrosis. The test distinguished between mild-moderate fibrosis and severe fibrosis 60 percent of the time. The researchers plan further tests with larger samples to refine the method’s effectiveness.

Peter Reinhart, director of UMass Amherst’s IALS says, “These exciting findings epitomize the mission of IALS to translate excellent basic science into diagnostics, therapeutic candidates and personalized health monitoring devices to improve human health and well-being.”

Peveler adds, “This may open the door to a cost-effective regular screening program thanks to its simplicity, low cost and robustness. We’re addressing a vital need for point-of-care diagnostics and monitoring, which could help millions of people access the care they need to prevent fatal liver disease.”

Rotello explains that the sensing strategy uses a “signature-based” approach that is highly versatile and should be useful in other areas. “A key feature of this sensing strategy is that it is not disease-specific, so it is applicable to a wide spectrum of conditions, which opens up the possibility of diagnostic systems that can track health status, providing both disease detection and monitoring wellness.”

In addition to UMass Amherst, UCL and the University of Glasgow, the U.K.-based research and development firm iQur Ltd. took part in the study. The work was supported by the U.K. Royal Society, the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.K. National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre.

http://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/umass-amherst-chemists-international-team