New Test Opens Window On Corrosive Free-Radical Activity In Individuals

Do antioxidant vitamins protect healthy people from free-radical damage, a process implicated in heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as such normal aspects of aging as wrinkled skin? Can some diseases be slowed or reversed with antioxidant compounds?

Perhaps surprisingly, researchers have yet to answer these seemingly straightforward questions, because no technique has existed to easily and directly measure the corrosive effects in the body of these highly reactive types of oxygen nor to assess the effectiveness of any countermeasures that might be taken.

Now, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center scientists have developed a new test to accurately and noninvasively measure free-radical activity in individuals. The method, detailed in the March 31 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is both simpler and more sensitive than one developed earlier by the same group. Taken together, the two assays corroborate each other and provide a powerful set of tools to address the role of free radicals in health and disease.

"Do healthy people derive any benefit from taking antioxidants if they have a strong native antioxidant defense?" asks Garret A. FitzGerald, MD, chairman of the department of pharmacology and senior author on the study. "Can antioxidants contribute significantly to the prevention or treatment of disease? This new test will allow us to answer these and other important questions about free-radical activity in individuals."

To date, the evidence linking free radicals to disease and aging -- through a biochemical process analogous to rusting -- and the supposition that antioxidants can limit the deleterious effects of free radicals have been based on statistical studies of groups of people and on test-tube experiments with cells in the laboratory.

These methods, although valuable, give no insight into variation between individuals, some of whom may possess highly

Contact: Franklin Hoke
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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