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Agilent collaborates with UTS to study how trace metals impact health

Agilent Technologies Europe : 10 July, 2008  (Company News)
Agilent Technologies and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has worked together to set up a research facility to study trace metals and other elements in tissue, and their effects on health.
The UTS Elemental Bio-Imaging Facility has opened to develop new methods of imaging small amounts of metals, trace elements and other elements (essentially the entire periodic table) in tissues, in the search for new ways to diagnose certain serious diseases and to understand drug actions and drug side effects. This new field of study is called ‘metallomics’.

'The basic technology, laser ablation - ICPMS [inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry] has been used in analytical laboratories for quite some time for forensic applications and to study the composition of rocks,' said Rudolf Grimm, PhD, Agilent director, LC/MS Market Development. 'What's novel about this effort is using the technology in new ways to study how iron or zinc and their particular isotopes, for example, affect the condition of brain or heart tissue. I've been imagining the potential of this approach for about four years, and now we have the right collaborator to investigate it in-depth.'

The toxic effects of large doses of metal are well known, but little is understood about trace amounts.

'These techniques can probe the mechanism, progression and treatment of many disorders such as heart disease and osteoarthritis, and also detect the spread of cancer, such as melanoma in lymph nodes,' said Dr Philip Doble, senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Forensic Science, UTS Faculty of Science.

UTS is providing the facility and scientific staff to perform the research. Its researchers have developed a new and novel imaging technique that accurately maps deposits of trace metals in biological tissues and converts them into 2D visual images. This enables the study of metals and their interactions with proteins in the body.

Agilent is providing:

- 7500 Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass spectrometer (ICP-MS);

- 6500-Series triple quadrupole LC/MS;

- funding for project work;

- scholarships for postgraduate students to pursue research in this area;

- technical consulting;

- a grant to develop imaging technology.

Dr Doble explained how some of the technology is being harnessed: 'Using the latest ICP-MS, researchers place a slice of human tissue on a plate, pop it into a sample chamber and zap it with a laser. The tissue sample is vapourised and swept to a plasma at 80000K. This breaks the sample into its elemental components, giving a direct chemical analysis of the entire sample that can be seen as an image rather than as a series of numbers.

'Direct sampling of biopsy material, for example, reduces the errors that creep in when ordinary sampling techniques are used,' Dr Doble added. 'The new techniques have the potential to probe the mechanism, progression and treatment of many diseases.'
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