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.