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Biotech Science

Blood Cells Converted Into Chemical Sensors 35

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-in-the-blood dept.
ananyo writes "Chemists have turned red blood cells into long lived sensors that could be put back into circulation to monitor the make up of patients' blood in real time. Many patients require monitoring of their blood, such as diabetics. But extracting blood is both invasive and provides only a one-off measurement. At the American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia, Xiaole Shao explained how her team has built sensors that may one day allow both non-invasive and long-term monitoring of crucial aspects of blood chemistry. Shao, a chemist at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and her colleagues exploited the fact that near-infrared light will penetrate skin. This means it can trigger florescent molecules that are circulating in the blood, and this florescence can be picked up by an external monitoring device. If the molecule's florescence changes in response to chemical conditions, these changes can also be detected, and you have a sensor. But florescent dyes can be toxic, and they don't last long in the body, as they are quickly filtered out. To avoid the problem, the researchers encapsulated the sensors in red blood cells. The team next plans to inject the sensors into rats."
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Blood Cells Converted Into Chemical Sensors

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  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday August 20, 2012 @09:19AM (#41054365) Homepage

    But florescent dyes can be toxic, and they don't last long in the body, as they are quickly filtered out. To avoid the problem, the researchers encapsulated the sensors in red blood cells. The team next plan to inject the sensors into rats.

    And, for 10 points on the quiz, what happens to red blood cells after around 90 days? Very good! They get chomped up by the body and the pieces parts recycled.

    Poor rats. They should at least use lawyers, we've apparently got a glut of the things and nowhere to put them.

    • Florescent lawyers.

      I know, it's bad to reply to one's own post but I couldn't help it.

      I really like the idea of fluorescent lawyers for some twisted reason or other.

      • Hey look, you caught the typo in the summary! "Fluorescent" means it gives off light. "Florescent" means it gives off... flowers.
        • ...dios mio, it's in the Nature blog article too.
          • Sigh. English is much too complicated. Either way, it's hard to pronounce and spell. We should just drop the 'F' word and call it 'glowy'.

            • It might not be a bad idea—when I first heard the word I assumed it meant that all fluorescence came from Fluorine.

              The history of chemical naming is wildly complex and intricate; some terms in chemistry go back hundreds of years prior to modern chemistry and come from very silly alchemical names (aqua regia, for example, "royal water", is still sometimes used to refer to a mixture of acids that can eat through gold.) I've got a really thick book about it that I've never read.

        • by bmo (77928)

          And the other comm typo is "flourescence."

          It gives off flour.

          --
          BMO

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)
      I have a few suggestions [google.com] on good places to store/recycle lawyers...
    • I presume that the team is well aware of this. My bet is that the breaking down of the cells would be over a long stretch of time, thus the benefit of having a bunch of the dye while there is only a small amount of it accumulating in the tissues at any point in time.
      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Also, if the blood cells live for 90 days with the dye in them, you just need one injection of the dye-filled cells instead of injections of the dye every few days or so.

      • I too hope they have this in hand, because the majority of blood is recycled through the spleen, so it's not spread out around the body. I suspect this is why they are going to test on rats first.

        • Hopefully we'll find out soon. The talk was given yesterday afternoon [acs.org], and there doesn't appear to be any other information available on it yet. I'm guessing, though, since this is a very chemistry-oriented team, and the actual piece de resistance* is the IR sensor, they may be collaborating on, or even completely outsourcing, the clinical maturation of the project.

          *Not going to try the accents here.
  • by Leptok (1096623) on Monday August 20, 2012 @09:20AM (#41054379)
    This sounds like a great way to get that dye concentrated somewhere it shouldn't be.
    • Macrophages break down old bloods cells (90-120 days old). The majority of blood is recycled in the spleen (to a lesser extent elsewhere). So yeah, I can't imagine that concentrated doses of the fluorescent dye will be good for it.

  • To avoid the problem, the researchers encapsulated the sensors in red blood cells. The team next plan to inject the sensors into rats.

    I don't get it, are the rats going to be somehow injected into humans so that they will glow when we're going to dye? Why don't they just inject it into humans, or a different creature smaller than a rat- those can't be comfortable to have in you.. maybe crickets?

    • Not, it definitely has to be rats. Chinchillas have been shown to work in a pinch, but no rodent smaller than an albino Norwegian will do.
  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Monday August 20, 2012 @10:41AM (#41055355)

    I guess we've reached the point where the "science media" can't even wait for papers to be published, let alone accumulate a few references, before they push a one-sided synopsis they gleaned from a couple of phone calls with real scientists to a blog...
    For those of you who studied CS, Chemistry works a bit differently in that publishing papers is a far, far, faaaar greater hurdle than getting a talk accepted at a conference. Half of what you hear at a big, national meeting like ACS will never be published; less in reputable journals. The way things used to work, before "science journalists" started competing with each other to see who could "break a story" the fastest, is that a paper was peer reviewed and published and then it sat in a journal for a while. The second, and more important step, is other people citing that work as they try to reproduce/use/build on it. Only after it has garnered a fair number of citations will it be considered both interesting and relevant. (That is not to say that people fabricate results, just that some chemistry is more difficult to reproduce.)

    Ten years ago, you framed the cover art if your paper made it on the cover of a journal. Your university might do a press release if you cured cancer or something. Now (American) universities have whole PR departments (the ever-expanding "administrative" part of university that sucks up your kid's tuition) that basically feed "news" about articles that will be published to "journalists" who then Google a couple of keywords to figure out who they should call for a comment--you know, two sources--after they speak with one of the authors. (But don't worry, their degree in Basic Science or Biology totally qualifies them to write about anything involving a lab coat.) Then they write up some non-information-containing fluff that doesn't even point the reader at the actual, published work (due to policies of the publishers). So what are we supposed to do with this information that is basically a summary of the BS you write in the Introduction about why your work is the bees knees? I mean, this "story" is a summary of the part of a yet-to-be-published paper that referees basically glance at to make sure they cited all the Big Names before they move on to the actual science. In reality, the researchers probably just proved the concept using green fluorescent dyes, as NIR dyes have low quantum yields and are not common because of some fundamental problems involved in fluorescence above 800 nm. But what I know from this story is that NIR light can pass through tissue (sort of; it's not like we're invisible at 1200 nm or something) and that some scientists did something with fluorescence in red blood cells.

    I am all for publicizing the results of taxpayer money vis-a-vis university researchers, but this kind of hyperbolic nonsense that doesn't even link back to the actual published results just creates unrealistic expectations from laymen. "I read an article on using blood cells as sensors like two years ago, why do I still have to prick my finger to measure my glucose levels? Stupid scientists--what good are they?"

    • by ananyo (2519492)

      The idea that journalists should not cover findings reported at meetings because they're too stupid or the results are not ready for primetime is a little odd, specially in the heady days of the social web. The results are out on twitter - not because dumb journalists are writing about it but because scientists are tweeting about it, blogging it and so on.
      A more mature response might be to suggest that there should be more critical voices out there on the research as quickly as possible - so that by the tim

      • The idea that journalists should not cover findings reported at meetings because they're too stupid or the results are not ready for primetime is a little odd, specially in the heady days of the social web. The results are out on twitter - not because dumb journalists are writing about it but because scientists are tweeting about it, blogging it and so on.

        You said stupid; I would use the word unqualified. And what does the social web have to do with centuries old traditions of scientific research? What, since everyone has an iPhone scientists should start having to worry about their "Klout score" or whatever? This is the same mentality that drives real-time Tweets about congresspeople taking votes--i.e., performing the most mundane part of their job--and that has ruined political journalism. I mean, what is the story here? "Scientists have good idea, prove c

    • FWIW, the talk was about a novel IR sensor [acs.org]. So there's at least that. TFA is a (typo-ridden—wtf is "florescence"?) Nature Blogs article, presumably from someone who was in the stands yesterday and thought it deserved a little bit of attention for being neat. I think most of the PR inflation, at least in this case, happened right here on Slashdot.
      • FWIW, the talk was about a novel IR sensor [acs.org]. So there's at least that. TFA is a (typo-ridden—wtf is "florescence"?) Nature Blogs article, presumably from someone who was in the stands yesterday and thought it deserved a little bit of attention for being neat. I think most of the PR inflation, at least in this case, happened right here on Slashdot.

        You're right; this is mostly a function of the "new and improved" Slashdot... I sort of went off on a semi-unrelated tirade against science journalism, in general. If they got this concept to work with actual NIR fluorophores, then that is at least interesting. Though it sort of proves my point that the "journalist" here totally missed what was interesting--i.e., people have stuffed fluorescent probes into red blood cells before--which is why you shouldn't blog about talks at ACS meetings unless, perhaps, y

  • Florescent: from "flora", and means "A condition, time, or period of flowering".
    Fluorescent: from "fluorite/fluorspar", a mineral which showcased an early example of observed fluorescence. I know that word simplification is trending in modern English, but someone should tell the article submitter and the editor that posted it that you can't do it to the point where you turn a word into a different one with incompatible semantics; the result is embarrassment at best (as in this case) and misunderstanding at

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