Glow chemical in TV crime shows inspires medical detectives

March 30th, 2009 - 6:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 30 (IANS) Inspired by detectives on TV shows who often spray crime scenes with a compound called luminol to make the blood glow, researchers are using the same compound to mark sites where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, causing auto-immune diseases.
The study authors from Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in St. Louis, reported that injected luminol glows blue at sites of active immune inflammation in living mice, and that they can detect this glow from outside with scientific cameras.

Immune inflammation is thought to be a critical component of arthritis and other auto-immune diseases such atherosclerosis, some forms of cancer and neurodegenerative disease.

Imaging such inflammation non-invasively should help scientists better understand and control it, according to the researchers.

“It’s quite striking how specific and sensitive this approach is,” said senior study author David Piwnica-Worms. “For example, we have evidence that this technique can highlight inflamed tissue that is on the way to becoming cancerous but not yet discernible via visual or tactile inspection.”

Piwnica-Worms, professor of radiology and developmental biology at WUSM, notes that cardiologists now believe immune inflammation is a key component that makes an arterial plaque dangerous.

Such inflammation causes platelets to bind to plaques, leading the plaques to rupture or break away and putting the patient at risk of heart attack, stroke or lung clots, said a WUMS release.

For now, blood vessels of the chest and torso are too deep within the body to image with this approach. But vessels of the leg and neck are close enough to the skin that the technique may be “directly translatable” to use in human patients, according to Piwnica-Worms.

These findings were published in Nature Medicine.

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