Unique imaging probe opens drug discovery possibilities

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Magnetic resonance imaging

Using a modified version of nuclear magnetic resonance technology,
(NMR) scientists have revealed the therapeutic potential of an
insect's venom, which could be utilised to provide a better
understanding of Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

In addition, the scientists remain enthusiastic about the technique used to obtain the volumes of information from very tiny samples adding that it could aid in the search for natural substances to make medicines.

Researchers at the McKnight Brain Institute's Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy equipped an NMR spectrometer with a special probe to examine the venom, taken from insects called common two-stripe walking sticks.

The analytical tool uses much stronger magnetic fields to study smaller samples, allowing scientists to study molecules atom by atom.

The magnet, while fairly standard (600Mhz) is used in conjunction with the probe, which is unique due to the strength of sensitivity. The probe is inserted into the magnet to obtain chemical information from the samples.

"There are many potent, useful molecules made by plants and animals, but they are usually produced in such small quantities it takes a huge amount of material to characterise them,"​ said Arthur Edison, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida.

"In this case, it previously required hundreds of milkings to get enough walking stick venom for analysis. We were able to get great data from just one milking."

Developed by scientists at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at the University and a manufacturer of NMR equipment, the probe is only about 2 inches in diameter, and the space for the sample itself is about 1 millimetre in diameter.

When in use, the probe is cooled to lower than 400 degrees Fahrenheit below zero to reduce electrical signals that would interfere with the analysis. But the sample area itself is kept warm to protect the specimen.

"It is now possible to approach problems we couldn't think about before," said Edison. "For example, in mouse models of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, there is not a lot of tissue to work with, especially if you're studying a sample from a single animal."

"But this is a way we could obtain potentially important chemical information about disease from small amounts of brain tissue. It's the kind of thing that may provide hints about drug discovery in future."

The analytical technique is described in the current issue of ACS Chemical Biology by scientists at the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology at the Gainesville US Department of Agriculture.

Related topics Preclinical Research

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