Life patterns

A new use of old technology could lead to handheld scanning diagnostic devices (as seen in Star Trek!) one day becoming a reality.

Writing in the October issue of Biologist, Steve Mitchell and colleagues (Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine, London) envisage a future where, ‘an entire individual could be quickly scanned using a handheld device. Extrapolating further, such a scan could provide a virtually instant readout of an individual’s biochemistry, revealing potential illnesses and providing a diagnosis, even before the emergence of any clinical manifestations.’

A new application of existing technology offers a first step in understanding the human genome in action, whereby we can follow change inside cells without a complete understanding of what these changes involve. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (originally discovered in 1945, but since made both more specific and much more sensitive) can analyse the molecular contents of a cell – producing distinct patterns, which promise to reliably indicate different disease processes. By following patterns, rather than individual proteins, scientists gain an overview of entire cell processes, and a valuable insight into the nature of cellular change.

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