Environmental, Health and Safety

Video: Medical 'Microbreweries' Identify Exposures to Radiation

14 August 2018

Radiology workers are regularly exposed to low doses of radiation when they obtain patient imagery such as X-rays. While protective gear helps, absorbing a little bit is still inevitable. This radiation risk potentially has increases risks of cancer, cataracts, skin irritation and thyroid disease.

A new development from Purdue University uses yeast to help hospital lab workers better track daily radiation exposure, allowing for a faster assessment of tissue damage that could lead to cancer.

Researchers have engineered yeast “microbreweries” within disposable badges made of freezer paper, aluminum and tape that with a drop of water activates the yeast to show radiation exposure as read by an electronic device.

Purdue said that the technology could be used one day by a tablet or phone to alert workers in a nuclear power plant or victims of nuclear disasters to high radiation exposure.

"You would use the badge when you're in the lab and recycle it after you've checked your exposure by plugging it into a device," said Manuel Ochoa, a postdoctoral researcher in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

How They Did It

The technology works in that the higher the radiation dose, the higher the percentage of yeast cells that die. Wetting the badge activates the cells that are still alive to eat glucose and release carbon dioxide - the same thing happens when brewing beer or making bread rise.

When carbon dioxide bubbles at the surface, ions also form. These ions increase the electrical conductivity of yeast, which can be measured by hooking up the badge to a readout system.

"We use the change in electrical properties of the yeast to tell us how much radiation damage it incurred,” said Rahim Rahimi, Purdue postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering. “A slow decrease in electrical conductivity over time indicates more damage.”

Numbers from the readout system translate to rads and the system can detect a radiation dose as little as 1 millirad in the yeast badges.

The full research can be found in the journal Advanced Biosystems.

To contact the author of this article, email peter.brown@ieeeglobalspec.com

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