Researchers develop high-intensity ultrasound technique capable of detecting metal ions inside the body

[Courtesy of UNIST]

SEOUL — A joint team of researchers has developed a diagnostic technique that uses high-intensity focused ultrasound to detect metal ions. The technique can play a vital role in the process of understanding metal ions in healthy and diseased states.

Metal ions are basic and fundamental elements necessary for sustaining the life of plants, animals and humans. Essential metal ions for humans include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Other trace metals such as iron, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc and molybdenum are also important. It is essential to find what type of metal ions are present in an animal’s body as they can be beneficial or toxic depending on their identity.

DNAzymes, also called deoxyribozymes, are DNA molecules capable of catalyzing a specific reaction. Metal-dependent DNAzymes are used to create a biosensor for metal ions. When the sensor detects metal ions and becomes active, it activates a fluorescent signal visible to the human eye. Some DNAzyme-based sensors use an optical laser for activation, but since the laser could not penetrate the skin or muscle tissue layers, the use of these laser-based optical DNA sensors was limited.

Researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), the University of Texas and the University of Illinois used high-intensity focused ultrasound to activate DNAzyme biosensors and detect ions zinc from a live mouse. Ultrasound was used to hold the temperature of the side of the mouse at 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes to activate the DNAzyme biosensor injected into the side of the body. The part of the body hit by the ultrasound showed a stronger fluorescent reaction.

“This research has shown that the ultrasound technique can be used for the detection of specific elements in a body and the activation of nanoparticles for drug delivery as well as for conventional photodynamic treatments and ultrasound imaging,” said UNIST researcher Kim Gun in a statement in April. 13.

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