Researchers at Michigan State University's Precision Health Program have helped develop a fascinating new method for detecting the density of proteins in the blood - a method that could vastly improve the rate at which diseases are detected and diagnosed.
The method, called "magnetic levitation," or MagLev, had previously been used to separate different types of particles in solutions, arranging them in groups based on their relative densities rather than weight. Now, two new studies by Precision Health's Morteza Mahmoudi, assistant professor, and Ali Akbar Ashkarran, research associate, illustrate how the method also can be applied to human blood plasma - the liquid component of blood. Plasma contains many types of proteins that perform a multitude of functions in the body.
When we put something in liquid, it separates into sediment by weight. But another force - the magnetic force ¬- can cancel out weight and levitate the proteins. This permits us to much more precisely define the density of proteins in solution." Morteza Mahmoudi, assistant professor, Precision Health
Being able to accurately measure the density of proteins in the body is important since proteins play important roles in both health and disease states. For example, lipoproteins transport fats to cells, antibody proteins play roles in immunity and coagulation proteins help blood clot. Current methods to measure density of proteins in liquid are unreliable and often destroy the fundamental properties of the proteins.
In the first study, published in Analytical Chemistry , the team applied the MagLev technique in a small tube containing magnetic nanoparticles into which plasma proteins had been introduced. Over a three-hour period, the team observed the emergence of a number of distinct bands representing various forms of proteins.
"The proteins created specific shapes when they were levitated," Mahmoudi said. "It looks like a 'smiley face' of layers."
Measuring the density of the bands, the team arrived at two noteworthy findings. The first was that there was no correlation between the density of a protein and its molecular weight, which came as a surprise since it goes against conventional thinking. The other was that the average density of proteins was much lower than previous studies had suggested.
The mechanism by which the proteins separate into layers by density isn't totally clear, but it may be due to structural differences and/or protein-to-protein interactions. Related Stories
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