Researcher at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has developed a new rapid, portable and inexpensive detection system to identify personal exposure to toxic lead and other dangerous heavy metals.
The device developed by PNNL scientist Wassana Yantasee, can provide an accurate blood sample measurement from a simple finger prick, which is vital for sampling children.
This portable analyzer system uses two classes of sensors to accurately detect lead and other toxic metals in blood as well as in urine and saliva. The first is based on a flow injection system using a mercury-film electrode to analyze metals in blood, urine or saliva samples.
The results of this research was as credible as that of current modern mass spectrometry systems many times its size.
This new system provides a quicker, simpler and easier method of monitoring toxic metal exposures in high-risk populations, such as industrial workers, children and people living in polluted areas.
The new detection system is a little larger than a lunchbox and is field-deployable with plug-and-play features allowing different sensors to be easily exchanged to detect a variety of heavy metal toxins. The entire system is battery-operated and needs almost one and one-half times the power of a typical laptop computer. It also routinely delivers reliable measurements within a rapid two-to-five minute analysis period.
According to early production cost estimates, it is indicated that the device may be as much as 10 times less expensive than existing plasma mass spectrometry systems, lacking field portability and require samples to be returned to the lab for time-consuming and more expensive analysis.
Lead accumulation in children can damage the developing brain, leading to reduced IQ, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Recent attention to children's exposure to lead from toys and products from the Far East has increased the interest in toxic exposures to heavy metals.
It is important to have the ability to quickly and accurately identify children with elevated blood lead levels in providing treatment to those who need it. Besides, large numbers of industrial workers may be regularly exposed to toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead and mercury, known to induce various diseases.
"We need next-generation analyzers to reduce the time and lower the costs of analysis for clinical diagnosis. They will help us better understand the relationship between the exposure to these toxins and how the body responds, which will help in developing new strategies to reduce exposures and risks," said Yantasee.
He added: "Our research has focused on optimizing the sensor systems to work with the biological complexities in blood, urine and saliva samples. Validation of these sensor platforms for use in biomonitoring is particularly important in developing a personalized exposure assessment strategy."
To eliminate the use of toxic mercury in conducting the analysis, the second class of the sensor uses a mercury-free approach of nanostructure materials developed at PNNL.
This involves use of either Self-Assembled Monolayers on Mesoporous Supports, SAMMS technology, or functionalized magnetic nanoparticles that provide excellent detection sensitivity at a parts-per-billion level.