A new metal detector to study human disease

Zinc may be a familiar dietary supplement to millions of health-conscious people, but it remains a mystery metal to scientists who study zincs role in Alzheimers disease, stroke and other health problems.

They are just beginning to fathom how the body keeps levels of zinc under the precise control that spells the difference between health and disease.

Researchers now have developed a biochemical metal detector to help crack the mystery. It is a biosensor that has yielded the first measurements of the tiny amounts of zinc ordinarily present inside living cells.

The study appears in the current issue of ACS Chemical Biology, the newest of 34 journals published by the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific organization.

It was conducted by Rebecca A. Bozym and Richard B. Thompson, Ph.D. of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, and Andrea K. Stoddard and Carol A. Fierke, Ph.D. of the Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The question of how much zinc is available in a cell has emerged at the forefront of chemical biology, Amy R. Barrios, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, wrote in an accompanying Point of View in ACS Chemical Biology.

Barrios described the new research as a critical step forward, and predicted many more exciting breakthroughs in measuring levels of metals in human cells.

Just 2-3 grams of zinc (the weight of a penny coin) exist in the entire human body. The metal is a key building block in enzymes and other substances involved in functioning of the nervous system, the immune response, and the reproductive system.

We believe this new technique can help us understand how zinc is involved in plaque formation in Alzheimers disease, how prolonged seizures or stroke kill brain cells, and how the cell normally

Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society

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