The pigment that gives spinach and other plants their green colour may improve doctors’ ability to examine the inner workings of the human body to enable them examine more closely for gastrointestinal illnesses, a study has revealed.
The study published in the journal Advanced Materials describes how chlorophyll-based nano-particles suspended in liquid are an effective imaging agent for the gut. The medical imaging drink, developed to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal illnesses, is made of concentrated chlorophyll — the pigment that gives spinach and other plants their green colour, said the study. “Our work suggests that this spinach-like nanoparticle juice can help doctors get a better look at what is happening inside the stomach, intestines and other areas of the GI tract,” said Jonathan Lovell, Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, New York.
To examine the gastrointestinal tract, the researchers used X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasounds. The researchers also performed endoscopies in which a tiny camera attached to a thin tube is inserted into the patient’s body. The study focuses on Chlorophyll — a pigment found in spinach and other green vegetables that is essential to photosynthesis.
The researchers removed magnesium from Chlorophyll in a process which alters the pigment’s chemical structure to form another edible compound called pheophytin. Pheophytin plays an important role in photosynthesis, acting as a gatekeeper that allows electrons from sunlight to enter plants.
Next, they dissolved pheophytin in a solution of soapy substances known as surfactants. The researchers were then able to remove nearly all of the surfactants, leaving nearly pure pheophytin nanoparticles. The drink, when tested in mice, provided imaging of the gut in three modes: photoacoustic imaging, fluorescence imaging and positron emission tomography (PET). “The veggie juice allows for techniques that are not commonly used today by doctors for imaging the gut like photoacoustic, PET, and fluorescence,” said Lovell.