Illuminating science

Scientists at Cardiff University have developed a bright idea for detecting zinc in the body with implications for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Simon Pope and colleagues in the School of Chemistry have designed a new type of luminescent sensor for biomedical imaging that can selectively detect the presence of zinc in conditions like that in the body. Biomedical imaging enables physicians and scientists to "see" and better understand tissue and organ function.

Zinc is essential for human growth and development and an imbalance of zinc occurs in humans suffering from illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. However, little is known about the distribution, accumulation and mobility of zinc occurring in cells.

The new sensor uses the chemical europium which, when zinc is present, causes a detectable change in the red luminescence of the chemical.

Dr Pope said: "This work represents a proof-of-principle in the design of responsive sensors for biomedical imaging. Our approach is to design molecules that are non-toxic to the body and that can be applied to scanning techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and luminescence imaging. Our next goal is to improve the properties of the sensor to potentially allow a greater imaging depth within tissue"


Contact: Dr. Simon Pope
Cardiff University

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