CSI technology fiction becomes reality
24th August 2012
Many of us have seen the popular television series CSI, CSI Miami and CSI New York. During the programmes we will have seen the forensic scientists using portable instruments to obtain instant fingerprint analysis, obtain DNA matches from blood samples and detect chemical traces from clothes. Now whilst all of this can sometimes seem far fetched, as usually to do this sort of analysis you would need a room sized laboratory instrument, this may be set to change. As was reported in the March 25th 2008 edition of Science Daily, there was a large gap between the fiction of CSI programmes and the reality of modern day technology. Now however a scientific instrument featured on CSI for instant fingerprint analysis is forging another life in real world medicine, helping during brain surgery and ensuring that cancer patients get effective doses of chemotherapy, a scientist said in Philadelphia today. The report on instruments that miniaturize room-size laboratory devices the size of a shoe box was part of the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. During the exposition Dr Graham Cooks, the lead researcher said: "With both of the instruments we developed, no sample preparation is needed, which reduces analysis time from as much as several hours per sample to just a few seconds. Rapid results are critical when a surgeon is operating on a brain tumour, or when chemotherapy patients are being treated with powerful drugs that must be administered at precise levels." The instrument called a desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometer, or DESI, was featured on both CSI and CSI: Miami as a tool to analyse fingerprints. However, this portable instrument can do so much more. It's about the size of a shoe box and does not change or destroy the sample that is analysed. The team used DESI to identify biomarkers for prostate cancer and to detect melamine, a potentially toxic substance that showed up in infant formulas inChinain 2008. In addition, DESI can detect explosives on luggage. Now, the team at Purdue University is teaming up with collaborators led by Nathalie Y. R. Agar, Ph.D., at Harvard University to test the instrument in the operating room during brain cancer surgery, comparing it with the gold standard, traditional analysis of tissue samples by pathologists. "These pathology procedures are among the longest of all surgical operations, and this new technology offers the promise of reducing the time patients are under anaesthesia. DESI can analyse tissue samples and help determine the type of brain cancer, the stage and the concentration of tumour cells. It also can help surgeons identify the margins of the tumour to assure that they remove as much of the tumour as possible. These are early days, but the analysis looks promising." The other instrument under development is a Paper Spray Ionization Mass Spectrometer. The researchers are using this new device to monitor the levels of chemotherapy drugs in patient’s blood in real time. Many cancer drugs have relatively narrow therapeutic ranges, so they need to be in the blood at certain levels to work properly. However at present that information is not obtained in real time, so a patient could end up with too little or too much of the drug in his or her body. Currently Cooks team is testing to see whether DESI can provide different information, compared to what pathologists can provide by looking at human tissues under a microscope. In addition, the researchers are testing Paper Spray on patient’s blood samples, though Cooks points out that the device also could measure the levels of drugs of abuse or pharmaceuticals, in urine or other body fluids. So it maybe that next you watch an episode of CSI what you may be seeing is not some fancy, far fetched gadgetry of the future, but rather a modern piece of equipment that is being currently used to help both diagnose and treat serious medical conditions.