Better Detection of Toxic Metals in Blood

The device can provide an accurate blood sample measurement from a simple finger prick, which is particularly important when sampling children. PNNL's portable analyzer system accurately detects lead and other toxic metals in blood as well as in urine and saliva. Results are as reliable as those of current state-of-the-art mass spectrometry systems many times its size. This new system provides a quicker, simpler and easier method of monitoring toxic metal exposures in high-risk populations, such as industrial workers, children and people living in polluted areas.

A bit larger than a lunchbox, the new detection system is field-deployable with plug-and-play features that allow different sensors to be easily exchanged to detect a variety of heavy metal toxins. The entire system is battery-operated and requires about one and one-half times the power of a typical laptop computer. The system also routinely delivers reliable measurements within a rapid two-to-five minute analysis period. Early production cost estimates indicate that the device may be as much as 10 times less expensive than existing plasma mass spectrometry systems, which lack field portability and require samples to be returned to the lab for time-consuming and more expensive analysis.

Accumulation of lead in children can harm the developing brain, causing reduced IQ, learning disabilities and behavioral problems, among other things. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 310,000 U.S. children ages one to five have high levels of lead in their blood. Recent studies also indicate a link between lead exposure and a decline in mental ability many years later.

"Our research has focused on optimizing the sensor systems to work with the biological complexities in blood, urine and saliva samples," said PNNL scientist and principal investigator Wassana Yantasee. "Validation of these sensor platforms for use in biomonitoring is particularly important in developing a personalized exposure assessment strategy."; Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory