A Tricorder for Blood Disease and Breast Cancer


Science news with a spectroscopy bent from my desktop hit the virtual newsstands today over on SpectroscopyNOW.com First up, an atomic coilgun that can stop atoms in their tracks using a sequence of pulsed magnetic fields has been developed by US scientists. The device opens up the possibility of slowing and trapping atoms regardless of atomic number, which is not possible even with Nobel prize winning laser trapping science, which works only for specific atoms. The new approach could allow technologically important elements such as iron, nickel, and the most fundamental element of all, hydrogen, to be slowed to a standstill.

Next, we have a story for fans of Italian cuisine in which scientists have figured out the details of how enzymes in the fragrant herb basil give it its sweet zing so beloved of pesto fans. structure of eugenol synthase, frozen in mid-action as it makes its natural product, eugenol. The researchers at the University of Michigan have taken an X-ray snapshot of basil’s enzyme eugenol synthase working on a substrate molecule key to the biological synthesis of the aromatic component of fresh basil leaves, eugenol. Apparently, the enzyme has a rather unique action in that it involves a push-pull mechanism that evolved from a simpler enzyme seen in other plants and basil’s ancestors.

We also have a rather gory story in this week’s issue related to sticky blood. In it, an entirely new approach to testing for the sticky blood disorder known as Hughes syndrome, or antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is developed. The technique involves a statistical analysis of near-infrared (NIR) spectra recorded for suspect blood samples. The accurate results suggests that NIR might one day be developed as a non-invasive test that can be carried out without piercing the skin for a blood sample. Some observers are already suggesting this is yet another step towards a Tricorder type device for medical diagnostics.

Finally, NIR spectroscopy is also being investigated as a new approach to detecting the microscopic calcium salt crystals that form in tissue during the early stages of breast cancer. A Harvard medical team is developing the novel scanning technique and has invented an easy to make compound that latches on to the microcalcifications and lights up in the near-infrared region of the spectrum. Presumably, the same observers heralding a medical Tricorder type device for blood diseases will see this as another example of so NIR and yet so far.

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