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Nitrogen, Oxygen and Health
June 3, 2015   
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A young researcher studying for his Ph.D. in northern Poland is working on a method to determine the concentration of oxygen and nitrogen in the human body. This is important because excessive amounts of so-called reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen are indicative of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases as well as a range of inflammatory conditions.

Krzysztof ¯amojæ, a doctoral student at the University of Gdañsk in northern Poland, is conducting physicochemical research using fluorescent stereoscopy methods to determine the concentration of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen. His research findings are important in health diagnostics, but they can also prove useful in the cosmetic industry, helping producers improve their skin-care products.

¯amojæ explains that the amount of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen in human cells affects vital processes such as blood pressure, hormonal balance and cell signaling. “Excessive production of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen triggers cellular stress response that can cause cells to die,” ¯amojæ says.

There are many methods to detect the presence of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen, but none of them indicates their total content in cells, which is why researchers have been searching for special molecular biosensors to detect cellular stress.

Molecular biosensors are chemical compounds that could be used to detect different reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen in biological samples and then determine their quantity. Such biosensors could also help determine the total content of these reactive forms. This is an accurate indicator of the cellular stress level, testifying to a disturbed balance between pro-oxidants and anti-oxidants in cells.

“So far, I have never come across a method to indirectly determine such total content,” says ¯amojæ. “Existing methods are more about direct detection where sensors selectively react with compounds that are of interest to researchers. But there is a catch in that some reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen are extremely unstable and undergo various chemical reactions. My method is innovative in that a chemical reaction first attaches reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen to a stable compound and then the surplus of that compound is determined.”

Such molecular biosensors could be particularly useful in biological tests, molecular diagnostics as well as medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. They would make it possible to identify areas in cells with alarmingly high concentrations of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen.

The results of ¯amojæ’s research will be used in a range of biological tests used in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and pancreatitis, lung diseases, and cancer.

In his research project, ¯amojæ is working with the Cerkocompany, a cosmetics producer from Gdañsk. Cerko adds various antioxidants to its skin-care products to neutralize reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen, but all these ingredients are impermanent due to rapid oxidation. The cosmetics industry is seeking new body-care products based on natural and environmentally friendly ingredients because market research shows that one in four buyers opts for such products. In his research, ¯amojæ uses coumarin derivatives—compounds that are common in plants. This is important because cosmetics need to pass special cytotoxicity tests, to make sure they are not toxic to cells, before they can hit the market.

Karolina Olszewska
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