A biochemical metal detector to measure the physiological levels of zinc has been developed by US scientists. This could eventually pave way for new approach to study human diseases at a cellular level.
Zinc, a familiar dietary supplement to millions of health-conscious people, has remained a mystery metal to scientists who study its role in Alzheimer's disease, stroke and other health problems, reported science portal EurekAlert.
Just two to three grams of zinc (the weight of a penny coin) exist in the entire human body. It is a key building block in enzymes and other substances involved in the functioning of the nervous system, immune responses and the reproductive system.
In the past, scientists could only measure the relatively high levels of zinc in sick cells. The new sensing technology can measure very low free zinc concentrations in healthy cells, scientists said.
The new technique can help scientists understand how zinc is involved in plaque formation in Alzheimer's disease, how prolonged seizures or stroke kill brain cells and how the cell normally allocates zinc to different proteins, the scientists said.
The new research is 'a critical step forward', they say predicting many more exciting breakthroughs in measuring levels of metals in human cells.