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Blood Cells Converted Into Chemical Sensors

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the it's-in-the-blood dept.

Biotech 35

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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What could possibly .... (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41054365)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41054407)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056191)

Hey look, you caught the typo in the summary! "Fluorescent" means it gives off light. "Florescent" means it gives off... flowers.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056207)

...dios mio, it's in the Nature blog article too.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41056253)

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'.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056555)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

kaws (2589929) | about 2 years ago | (#41092605)

Mixture of acids that can eat through gold? That's commonplace in our world today. Another name for it is women.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41097035)

That is really not that funny.

Re:What could possibly .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41057443)

Then in technical situations, people would keep bugging you to clarify which kind of glowy you meant... chemiluminescence, triboluminescence, electroluminescence, fluorescence, and so on.

Re:What could possibly .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41056663)

At least the abstract [acs.org] for the talk uses the correct word.

As much as people on Slashdot whine about the editors not actually doing any editing, I think there is a parallel trend with some journal editors (at least in my experience with physics journals). It seems they do less and less editing, trying to offload that to the author. All they do is tweak the LaTeX formatting to get it to flow right, and if that takes too long or they run into LaTeX issues with how you used the template, they expect the author to either fix it or pay a fee to have them fix it. (Yes, I know this is Nature's blog and not the journal, probably run by different people... but still a reminder of a broader trend.)

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056987)

Just one of the many exciting reasons that TeX is the perl of the publishing world.

Re:What could possibly .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41057149)

I can royally fubar TeX far more than I've ever been able to do with perl code. That said, I don't think I've ever had much problem with using it for submitting to journals. I spend more time just trying to find the template on the journal's webpage, and trying to find every piece of the instructions they want you to follow that have been scattered to half a dozen places. I do smile every time Bibtex/Tex automatically formats my citations though, after years of high school teachers insisting how important it was to learn a specific bibliography style.

In that sense, having tools like TeX (I know other software can do it) making it possible to have the authors do 95% of the formatting themselves must be amazing for editors. The work effort per article drops by a lot compared to when having to accept hand written or typewriter made manuscripts. But the total work per editor still has risen due to number of submissions, and as a result, editing quality starts to slip in some places.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

bmo (77928) | about 2 years ago | (#41058809)

And the other comm typo is "flourescence."

It gives off flour.

--
BMO

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#41054459)

I have a few suggestions [google.com] on good places to store/recycle lawyers...

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 2 years ago | (#41054819)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 2 years ago | (#41055399)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#41055513)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056323)

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.

Re:What could possibly .... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056421)

...and it turns out that was submitted via POST for some unfathomable reason. Here's [acs.org] the correct link.

Don't red blood cells get recycled? (4, Interesting)

Leptok (1096623) | about 2 years ago | (#41054379)

This sounds like a great way to get that dye concentrated somewhere it shouldn't be.

Re:Don't red blood cells get recycled? (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#41055485)

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.

Why rats?? (1)

AwesomeMcgee (2437070) | about 2 years ago | (#41054679)

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?

Re:Why rats?? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056345)

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.

Diving (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41054797)

These sorts of sensors would be enormously useful for diving, especially people using rebreathers. The military would absolutely be interested in non-invasive blood monitoring for gas levels.

A common problem with rebreathers is that hypoxic conditions often arise without warning, leading to an unconscious diver. Being able to monitor blood oxygen levels from outside the body would greatly help, as the current solution of oxygen sensors in the breathing loop often have trouble when exposed to water.

Re:Diving (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41055803)

These sorts of sensors would be enormously useful for diving, especially people using rebreathers. The military would absolutely be interested in non-invasive blood monitoring for gas levels.

A common problem with rebreathers is that hypoxic conditions often arise without warning, leading to an unconscious diver. Being able to monitor blood oxygen levels from outside the body would greatly help, as the current solution of oxygen sensors in the breathing loop often have trouble when exposed to water.

"Hey John: You're starting to glow again. Better start for the surface."

Could work.

Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (2)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#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?"

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (1)

ananyo (2519492) | about 2 years ago | (#41055579)

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 time the research (slowly) reaches the printed page or is published online, it's had thorough external peer review. (Oh and journalists - good ones - we have many of those at Nature - do often provide a secondary peer review. Either questioning results or, more often, by choosing not to cover boring or incremental or simply wrong research that has reached the public domain).
The reporter has an undergrad degree in chemistry by the way, as you'll see if you google his name.

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41064623)

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 concept, get funding." Wow, someone call Cronkite!

Here is the problem with so-called social medial. It is self-serving because it prioritizes being the first one to fill a web page with text regardless of the content of that text in an effort to fill not just the 24-hour news cycle, but the insatiable appetite of the Internet for real-time information. It creates so much noise that it becomes impossible for ordinary people--like myself--to separate out the signal of actual news. This [reddit.com] is how social media should function; it is a nice example of how social media can add depth to news reporting and make people feel engaged.

There is nothing wrong with scientists blogging about their own results, on their own private blog--most of them are young and pre- or early-career and are understandably proud of their accomplishments. But blogging != reporting. And please don't take it personally--I have nothing against journalists and I sympathize with the tough transition Journalism is making from print to the Internet. If anyone is to blame here, it is the scientists themselves for indulging in the flattery of having someone write up something that just crossed the proof-of-principle threshold. (But they also have a lot of pressure put on them by the university to "Web 2.0, Social Media, exposure on the Internet, blah, blah.")

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 time the research (slowly) reaches the printed page or is published online, it's had thorough external peer review. (Oh and journalists - good ones - we have many of those at Nature - do often provide a secondary peer review. Either questioning results or, more often, by choosing not to cover boring or incremental or simply wrong research that has reached the public domain). The reporter has an undergrad degree in chemistry by the way, as you'll see if you google his name.

No, more critical voices are absolutely not what is needed; the scientific communities take care of that themselves, internally, as it should be. If I follow your logic, the added value of this type of reporting is that someone with an undergraduate degree can add a layer of "external peer review" on top of that provided by the panel of referees selected by journal editors (who are themselves active researchers), the attendees of scientific conferences, grant review panels, and internal reviews done the department/faculty at their university--i.e., literally their peers..? I am not dismissing all reporting of science as useless--quite the contrary. Every effort should be made to inform the public of how their tax dollars are spent--even people like Alan Alda, who are not journalists, do a tremendous public service by making people aware of the amazing accomplishments of modern scientific research. I am making the argument that social media and real-time over-reporting is detrimental to science in general for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that, by attempting to show how the sausage is made, it creates unreasonably high expectations and will ultimately lead to university administrators, politicians, and other non-scientists who control the flow of grant money inserting themselves into the funding process. They will inevitably start using Facebook Likes as a metric for tenure--don't laugh, this sort of nonsense is already happening and is creating a small, but growing niche of utterly incompetent, but media-savvy researchers (I am absolutely not accusing anyone involved in this story of this) who manage to completely decouple their success in their career from their success as scientists.

You say that good journalists provide a secondary peer review by choosing not to cover boring or incremental or simply wring research that has reached the public domain; so a journalist calls up a secondary source who says the results are nonsense. And then another. And then... doesn't report the story!? How would the modern science journalist have dealt with Schön? My guess is by falling all over each other to write up a synopsis of every, single one of his Science and Nature papers and then--just like the journalists did 10 years go--failing to report on just how unprecedented his "accomplishments" were and--just as the media did 10 years ago--dismissing dissent from other scientists as jealous skepticism. Where is the added value? You said it yourself; "science journalists" don't report on boring research. What does boring have to do with important?

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41056407)

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.

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41064653)

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, you were involved in the actual research.

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41057019)

There is a need for multiple tiers of ways to share research. Thoroughly worked out and document papers are quite important for recording information for the long run, and for making sure wrinkles have been ironed out as much as reasonably possible (assuming a decent job of peer-review). But the process is tedious, and quicker, less rigorous communication of research has its place. Some journals try to have sections for short update statements or letters to facilitate this. Conferences really facilitate this, where preliminary results can be discussed with people outside of one's own research group. In my experience, this has been invaluable for finding improvements and addressing potential issues before reaching the peer review stage of a paper.

I do think there is much room for improvement in science reporting, and that constantly saying some new tech is just a couple years away can be misleading. However, I don't think that means preliminary results should not be reported. To some degree, people need to learn that science is a process, that some research will fail to find a desired solution or lead to a dead end. If someone expects everything a scientist touches to work as expected, they already have an unrealistic expectation without the need for hyperbolic journalism. And frequently, knowing what was tried but didn't work is as important as knowing what works. Maybe that would help cut down some of the armchair scientists making posts along the line, "Stupid scientists, why didn't they just do XYZ?" when XYZ had been tried many, many times before.

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41059527)

Well said.

When the final statement of the article is "The team next plans to inject the sensors into rats" then you know the project is not even into the preliminary stage yet. It's like an article discussing a promising a new rocket that will revolutionize space travel and concluding with "The team next plans to build the rocket and test it".

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41060027)

So they make it obvious it is in very early preliminary stages, what is your complaint? You know there is a big chance of something going wrong down the line and the research not getting the desired the results. That doesn't mean a science journal should ignore it, just label it what it is.

Re:Slashdot Covering ACS Meetings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41060909)

Time and attention are limited. Covering this early work comes at the expense of more proven and important work. There are dozens of better pieces of work that have covered the same in vivo sensor ground that this group has and are farther along. Who cares about some sensor that can measure pH, hasn't been published and hasn't been anywhere near an animal?

https://www.google.com/search?q=in+vivo+ph+sensor

Florescent? (1)

Prune (557140) | about 2 years ago | (#41057131)

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 worst.
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