Washington, March 29 (ANI): Scientists at the University of Michigan have come up with a new method of detecting nitric oxide in exhaled breath, elevated levels of which are a telltale sign of diseases like lung cancer and tuberculosis.
The researchers say that their work may prove useful in diagnosing illness and monitoring the effects of treatment.
Assistant professor of Chemistry Anne McNeil and graduate student Jing Chen, who work with molecular gels rather than proteins, say that their aim was to create a material made of molecules that could organise themselves into a gel in the presence of nitric oxide and oxygen.
Other research groups have achieved similar feats with materials whose solubility changes when exposed to triggers, such as a change in pH.
However, McNeil had the idea of promoting the process, known as stimuli-induced gelation, by changing the stackability of the molecules that make up the material.
"We took the approach of designing a molecule that has a shape that won't pack together with other, identical molecules very well, but will change into a more stackable shape on exposure to nitric oxide," McNeil said.
According to the researcher, gelation occurs when the molecules stack together.
Given that it is easy to see when the material stops flowing and turns into a gel, the new approach of nitric oxide detection is simpler and less subject to interpretation than other detection methods, such as colorimetry and spectroscopy.
"I like the simplicity of not needing an instrument and just being able to flip the sample vial over and see if a gel has formed," McNeil said.
Although the new technique is not sensitive enough for clinical use at the moment, McNeil and Chen are hoping to improve its sensitivity.
The researchers are also extending the approach to design materials that would use stimuli-induced gelation to detect hazardous materials, such as explosives. (ANI)