Data Acquisition

New Tech Could Help Lower the Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Dangerous Metals

10 August 2018

Metal accumulation in the human body can result in health problems for those with high levels of exposure to certain types of metal. To help lower the number of those impacted by the associated health problems from the accumulation of dangerous metals, researchers from Purdue University have developed a system to help detect the presence of certain metals in the body.

The team designed the system to detect the presence of manganese, specifically — a neurotoxicant in high concentrations that over a million people in the U.S. are exposed to annually via work in industries such as construction, or potentially from eating food and drinking water.

The symptoms of overexposure to this metal can range from impaired cognitive and motor functions to permanent neurological disorders.

“The accumulation of manganese or other metals in the body can have serious impacts on the brain, kidney, liver and other organs," said Linda Nie, an associate professor in Purdue's School of Health Sciences, who led the research team. "We want to use our technology to assess the exposure levels and to prevent progressive and permanent damage. This technology we have developed opens up a new door for metal exposure assessment and quantification and the research on metals and associated health effects on humans."

The metal detection system — which relies on a neutron generator based activation analysis system capable of quantifying metals (like manganese) in the bone in vivo — observes the neutrons interacting with the metals present in the bone, and will emit elemental specific gamma rays that can be collected, thereby providing data about the exposure.

"Our novel, non-invasive technology is a giant leap for in-vivo metal quantification that may help improve the lives of thousands of people by identifying overexposure to toxic metals or insufficient intake of essential metals," Nie said. "Currently it is the only technology which can noninvasively assess long-term cumulative exposure to manganese and some other metals for an individual."

The team is investigating how to use the portable technology to quantify other metals such as cadmium and aluminum.

To contact the author of this article, email marie.donlon@ieeeglobalspec.com


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Discussion – 4 comments

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Re: New Tech Could Help Lower the Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Dangerous Metals
#1
2018-Aug-10 9:44 PM

Wait, wait, let me see if i have this right...

".... To help lower the number of those impacted by the associated health problems from the accumulation of dangerous metals, researchers from Purdue University have developed a system to help detect the presence of certain metals in the body....."

...the plan is to use...

".... a neutron generator based activation analysis system capable of quantifying metals (like manganese) in the bone in vivo ...."

...!?!

So to check for buildup of various metals, the plan is to expose people to neutron radiatoin and look for activation gammas????

Seriously? Come on.

Re: New Tech Could Help Lower the Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Dangerous Metals
#2
In reply to #1
2018-Aug-12 12:01 PM

I generally appreciate your insight into topics and your quick wit regarding the benefit analysis of approaches to "problems". But in this instance, I fear you have responded as if this is a non-problem and the solution presented by Purdue investigators is "overkill", possibly creating more harm than good.

The issue of heavy metal exposure on health - not only on the initial exposure recipient, but on those one or two contacts away can be significant. Infants of lactating mothers are exposed even if not directly exposed to the metal contaminants; our water supply is showing greater levels of metals as well as drug compounds over time. Possibly this increase in contaminants (Arsenic, Lead, Selenium, Mercury, etc.) may be due to more advanced, faster, and less expensive testing. To view this cavalierly - and to quote "Seriously? Come on." - it may be due to increased contaminant load in our environment. My favorite contaminant in our drinking water is birth control compounds and antibiotics found more often and a higher levels. Nothing to be cavalier about.

This heavy metal contamination of our children, our neighbor's children, our farm fields and our water supplies can result in higher incidence of psychiatric issues and in neurological/developmental issues in our next generation; we currently have an increasing incidence of Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis - is this due to testing vigilance or increased disease incidence? Is it due to increased metal exposure?

This test in its current form may present a few mSv more than background radiation, and currently would be used on paid human guinea pigs (test subjects) or on people with reason to investigate metal poisoning & exposure. I believe background levels are 2.5 mSv (25 mREM) per year, I have no idea what the gamma radiation produced from a metal contaminated subject would be exposed to in the conduct of this test - if it yields an answer pointing to a therapeutic pathway for improved health, it can be a greater benefit than cost to the test subject and to the subjects loved ones.

Come on, we all try to help people, let's not poo-poo a breakthrough pathway for investigating harmful accumulations of metallic compounds in a living being, especially in medicine.

Continue with your insightful comments, and I do applaud you for your cavalier answer of horror to this advancement in an in vivo test development. Had it agreed with your comment, I would not have weighed in. As a physician, I felt it incumbent to point out that there absolutely is a mandate that we advance the in vivo testing capabilities for these increasing levels of contaminants in our environment. Your point is well taken - we are all exposed to neutron radiation, some more so than others (high flyers, altitude residents of Denver, and astronauts) and such background radiation isn't totally benign. Whether a parent would want their child tested using the test in its current form or in the next several iterations is a serious decision to be made down the road, not a decision to be disregarded as unreasonable in a forum such as this.

Believe me, this test will be discussed in medical forums analyzing benefit and harm for years as the technology yields results (lower cost, greater sensitivity, reduced radiation load, etc). We have a saying "You never want to be the INTERESTING case" in medicine, you also don't want to be the first enjoying a "new test modality" either. This test may not be ready for "prime time" in its current iteration, but as an avenue to explore another environmental cause to neurological and biochemical disorders, I applaud Purdue's efforts even if I'm not signing up to be scanned.

Re: New Tech Could Help Lower the Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Dangerous Metals
#4
In reply to #2
2018-Aug-12 9:29 PM

In focusing on the gamma radiation you have completely missed the more serious exposure. Understand while the analysis being discussed is measuring activation gammas that can be relatively low energy, the activation is being brought about by exposure to a neutron flux. The neutron flux must be sufficient to get interact with enough of the metal being measured...which even at levels that bring great health concerns are still a small percentage of body mass.

There are low energy gammas that don't do much damage in the human body. What may not be clear is that there is not a similar category of neutrons. Low energy neutrons are not benign and in many circumstances can be more dangerous. Neutroj absorbtion doesn't just result in increased energy. Isotopes and often elements are changed due to interaction with neutron radiation.

Re: New Tech Could Help Lower the Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Dangerous Metals
#3
2018-Aug-12 12:15 PM

As a physician I can see the benefit of an in vivo analysis of trace metals with a test of sufficient sensitivity if the test has a reasonable benefit compared to perceived harm.

I agree with CAT scan surveillance for lung disease even though the risk of cumulative radiation exposure increases the risk of more DNA damage and therefore can be worse than no surveillance. We don't recommend yearly radiation testing without a clear benefit of using the technology. My trite comment is "remember Madame Curie"; as helpful as medical radiation has been, it has caused death many times in the past.

I look forward to the continued development of this test as well as literature outlining the easily recognized metals and other ionizing compounds in this in vivo test. I do not think I'll have an opportunity to prescribe this test as I do not deal with neurological or pediatric patients with illnesses of unknown origin, but I am interested in viewing the future developments in this field!

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