Firefly protein lights way to blood clot detection
NEW LONDON, Conn. – Fireflies have recently proved beneficial
to the medical world. The enzyme that makes them glow is paving the way for a long-sought
new medical imaging agent to better monitor treatment with heparin, a blood thinner
prescribed to millions of people for treating or preventing blood clots, scientists
Researchers at Connecticut College described a need for new medical
imaging agents that emit near-infrared light – the same light rays used in
night-vision technology to allow soldiers to see in the dark. With the ability to
penetrate deep into the body, those rays could provide doctors with a better way
of detecting the proteins involved in blood clotting.
Luciferase, the enzyme that makes lightning bugs glow, is already
being used in laboratory research. The new study, however, makes advances toward
using luciferase in medical imaging.
The scientists combined a protein from the firefly luciferase
with a special dye that allowed the protein to emit near-IR light. In laboratory
experiments, the material detected trace amounts of a specific blood protein, called
factor Xa, which is used to monitor the effectiveness of heparin treatment. The
findings are promising for improved heparin therapy monitoring.
The study appeared in the American Chemical Society’s monthly
journal Bioconjugate Chemistry, Vol. 21, pp. 2023-2030 (2010). Research was funded
by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation
and the Hans & Ella McCollum ’21 Vahlteich Endowment.
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