The new dye is based on the natural pigment that gives spinach (and other green plants) their verdant color, and initial studies indicate this suitable for examinations of the human gastrointestinal tract. The dye needs to be used in conjunction with an imaging system.
The imaging systems used include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasonic devices. However, these are not always effective, meaning the need for endoscopies (where a tiny camera enters the body.) Each of these processes can be enhanced through the use of dyes, and the better the dye then the better the imaging and the greater chance that a medic will spot anything awry with the gastrointestinal tract of the patient.
The dye is based on chlorophyll-based nanoparticles suspended in liquid, and it is effective. In an interview with Controlled Environments magazine, lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Lovell, from the University of Buffalo, explains: “Our work suggests that this spinach-like, nanoparticle juice can help doctors get a better look at what’s happening inside the stomach, intestines and other areas of the GI tract.”
The key aspect of the new dye is the green pigment chlorophyll. The researchers found that when magnesium is removed from chlorophyll this produces a compound called pheophytin — and this chemical plays a key role in photosynthesis.
When pheophytin is dissolved in a surfactant (a detergent), pure nanoparticles of pheophytin are produced. This can be used as the dye, to which an isotope (Copper-64) can be added.
Using the dye, trials have been successfully performed using mice. Different imaging methods were deployed: photoacoustic imaging, fluorescence imaging and positron emission tomography (PET). Each method was successful.
The research is published in the journal Advanced Materials, in a paper titled “Surfact-Stripped Frozen Phephytin Micelles for Multimodal Gut Imaging.”