Chemicals from a common novelty glow stick may be used to diagnose difficult diseases, including cancer, research from scientists in Israel has revealed.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have developed a water-resistant chemiluminescent probe based on the same common chemicals used to make novelty glow sticks that can detect and measure cellular activity that indicates certain pathologies, including cancer.
“Chemiluminescence is considered one of the most sensitive methods used in diagnostic testing,” lead researcher professor Doron Shabat of TAU’s School of Chemistry said in a statement. “We have developed a method to prepare highly efficient compounds that emit light upon contact with a specific protein or chemical.
“These compounds can be used as molecular probes to detect cancerous cells, among other applications,” he added.
The researchers were able to tweak the electronic structure of current probes to improve their inherent fluorescence, which could lead to the invention of a single component system with multiple application opportunities.
The majority of systems use a mixture of one emitter molecule that detects the protein or chemical being sought, as well as a fluorophore (a fluorescent chemical compound that can re-emit light when it absorbs light energy) and a soap-like substance called a surfactant that amplify the signal to detectable levels.
“As synthetic chemists, we knew how to link structure and function,” Shabat said. “By adding two key atoms, we created a much brighter probe than those currently on the market. In addition, this particular molecule is suitable for direct use in cells.”
The researchers developed sensors that detect several biologically relevant chemicals based on the molecule used and also used the chemiluminescent molecule to measure the activity of several enzymes and to image cells by microscopy.
“This gives us a new powerful methodology with which we can prepare highly efficient chemiluminescence sensors for the detection, imaging and analysis of various cell activities,” Shabat said.
According to the study, chemiluminescence probes are considered to be among the most sensitive diagnostic tools that provide high signal-to-noise ratio for various applications such as DNA detection and immunoassays.
The next step for the researchers is to explore ways to further amplify the chemiluminescence of the new probes to extend their usefulness in diagnoses.