Disease detector: Early signs visible to infrared

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  • Published: Apr 1, 2017
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Disease detector: Early signs visible to infrared

Microvesicles by infrared

Research spotlights early signs of disease using infrared light: New research Nano-medicine could herald fast, easy way to spot early signs of infection, cancer, and difficult to diagnose neurological conditions

Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy can detect and characterize the release of sub-micrometre sized microvesicles and how they change in response during the body's immunological response to bacterial infection. FTIR could thus be used to spot the earliest signs of disease, according to researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia.

New research from the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) Health and Medicine Flagship Program published in the FASEB Journal could lead to a fast and easy way to spot early signs of infection as well as looking for the equivalent markers in the early stages of cancer and even difficult to diagnose neurological conditions. Peter Lay and Georges Grau and their teams used FTIR spectroscopy to investigate the microvesicles, which are produced by mammalian cell membranes, and play a critical role in cell communication as well as in transporting RNA, DNA, proteins, lipids, and other biomolecules.

Microvesicles are used to dramatically change the biochemistry of other cells in a healthy person. However, they are released into the bloodstream at much higher levels during the acute and early development phase of many diseases. Moreover, microvesicles themselves are also potent vectors and mediators of disease. They are thus an important marker and spotting changes in concentration, their activity and biochemistry is now set to become a useful tool.


The team specifically used FTIR spectroscopy to monitor biomolecular changes in microvesicles in white blood cells, known as monocytes. The researchers stimulated monocytes in the laboratory with a component of pathogenic bacteria called lipopolysaccharide and then compare the FTIR spectra of these with those obtained from healthy, uninfected white blood cells. Lipopolysaccahride from various bacteria are a very troublesome group of chemicals. If they enter the blood they can trigger septic shock, a life-threatening complication of sepsis where the body's infection-response begins to damage the body's tissues and organs.

"We found a threefold increase in the number of microvesicles from white blood cells stimulated with lipopolysaccharide that points to a pathophysiological role for these microvesicles in bacterial infection and its subsequent immune response," explains Grau. "We also saw clear biomolecular changes - more lipids and proteins - in microvesicles produced by white blood cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharides, compared to those produced by resting white blood cells."


The team also demonstrated that most of the "cargo" of RNA, DNA, lipids and proteins released by the white blood cells were contained within these microvesicles. "This is very important since there is an enormous research effort looking at circulating RNA, DNA and proteins in blood as diagnostics of diseases and our results indicate that they are mostly carried in these microvesicles," adds Lay. "In many respects, the microvesicles released under bacterial stimulation during an infectious episode are like viruses whereby the altered lipid content and increases and proteins appear designed to invade and change the biochemistry of target cells by releasing their DNA and RNA." He adds that, "This use of FTIR spectroscopy to analyse microvesicles provides a new way to characterize the biomolecular differences in this model of septic shock-induced white blood cell-microvesicle and could easily be applied to other models of microvesicle release, notably in a range of inflammatory diseases."

As part of the bigger Flagship program, this work and other research is focused on discovering hitherto unknown aspects of human diseases and the pathways down which novel drugs and treatments might be directed. Importantly, there are myriad endogenous biological nanovesicles released by the immune system in response to both infectious and non-infectious diseases and any one of these systems might represent a new target.

Related Links

FASEB J 2017, online: "Infrared spectroscopic characterization of monocytic microvesicles (microparticles) released upon lipopolysaccharide stimulation"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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