Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new, more sensitive method of detecting trace amounts of estrogen in small samples could improve research into cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, according to research published in a recent edition of the journal Analytica Chimica Acta.
The technique, which was developed by scientists from the University of Texas at Arlington and colleagues from Palacký University in the Czech Republic, uses chromatography instrumentation and mass spectrometry to detect trace amounts of the hormone at less than 10 parts per trillion in a 100 microliter sample – equal to a drop of water in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Estrogen has been linked to everything from tumor growth to neuron loss in neurodegenerative conditions, but detecting minute amounts of it in blood and other types of biological fluid can be extremely challenging, the researchers said. This technique could make the process easier.
“This new method pushes the detection limit for estrogens to a level that is applicable to research, human health, medicine, and environmental analysis,” said co-author Jose Barrera, director of the Shimadzu Institute for Research Technologies at the Texas-based university.
“It is being instituted as a routine service for research means that all researchers now have the capability to more closely relate research model findings to human health and physiology,” he added. “This project represents the collaborative capability that the Shimadzu Institute possesses in helping augment groundbreaking research here at UT Arlington.”
Kevin Schug, Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry at UT Arlington and co-author of the new paper, explained that mass spectrometry and chromatography allow health researchers to separate, identify and quantify molecules in a complex mixture. The process requires using permanently charged reagent to selectively trap estrogen molecules, isolating them from the lipids and proteins that could keep them from being detected.
“We are dealing with extremely small quantities and there are a lot of things out there that look like estrogen,” Schug explained. “You have to have this ability to separate out these individual components and detect them accurately.”
Many current methods of detecting estrogen rely on the use of an antibody, a type of potein detection system, the researchers explained. However, those processes and others currently in use are less reliable, more time consuming and require a larger sample that the one used in the latest experiments. The authors said their technique can be completed in less than 25 minutes, including the time required to prepare the samples.
“Estrogens perform important biological functions not only in sexual development and reproduction, but also in modulating many other processes impacting health and diseases in human and animals,” said Palacký University scientist and co-lead author Jana Beinhauer, who spent nine months working at UT Arlington during the course of the research.
“The metabolically active estrogens exert strong biological activities at very low circulating concentrations. Therefore this research is very important for finding sensitive, efficient, fast, automated and simple method how to determine the trace estrogens in serum,” Beinhauer added.