Coffee, black, decaf and a little llama on the side

St. Louis, May 11, 2006 -- Three llamas and two camels have provided a way to tell whether your waiter swapped regular coffee for decaf in your after-dinner cup. Using the heat-resistant antibodies these camels and llamas make, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are developing a quick test for caffeine that works even with hot beverages.

The researchers plan to adapt their technology to a simple test ("dipstick") that can be used to check for caffeine in a variety of drinks. Their research will appear in the June 1 issue of the American Chemical Society's journal Analytical Chemistry.

Caffeine can cause restlessness, irritability, dehydration or heart arrythmias, and those who are highly sensitive to caffeine can feel its stimulant effects for as long as 20 hours. In addition, some medicines adversely interact with caffeine.

"We believe our test would be the first consumer test for caffeine and would be beneficial for anyone wishing to avoid caffeine for health or personal reasons," says senior author Jack H. Ladenson, Ph.D., the Oree M. Carroll and Lillian B. Ladenson Professor of Clinical Chemistry and director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine.

Interestingly, the key to the caffeine test comes from llamas and camels -- pack animals that have transported caffeinated commodities such as coffee, tea and cocoa for centuries. These camelids happen to be among the few creatures whose immune systems can produce antibodies that aren't destroyed at the high temperatures common to brewed beverages.

The researchers reasoned that if they could create heat-resistant camelid antibodies that reacted to caffeine, they could potentially build a durable assay suitable for use almost anywhere. They gave intramuscular injections of a caffeine-linked protein to three llamas and two camels to elicit an immune response to caffeine. They found that blood from the animals contained antibodies that were heat-stable and re

Contact: Gwen Ericson
Washington University School of Medicine

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