Glowing Protein In Unagi Can Help Screen For Jaundice In Babies

A glowing protein from Japanese eel muscles can be used to test for jaundice in newborns.

AsianScientist (Jul. 13, 2016) – Newborn screening for diseases like jaundice could soon be a little easier, thanks to unagi, or the Japanese eel.

Bilirubin is a yellow to orange substance the body makes when it breaks down old red blood cells. Excessive bilirubin for newborns could lead to jaundice, mental retardation and other learning disabilities, eye movement problems, and loss of hearing. Current methods for measuring bilirubin, however, suffer from interference by hemoglobin and lipids, which are often included in clinical serum samples from preterm or sickly newborn infants.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, a research team led by Project Professor Morioka Ichiro from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine showed that a fluorescent protein called UnaG sourced from Japanese eel muscles can be used to accurately detect unconjugated bilirubin in newborns.

UnaG was first discovered in 2013 by Dr. Miyawaki Atsushi, team leader at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, who collaborated with Ichiro on the present study.

The researchers analyzed a total of 140 serum samples from 92 newborns to confirm the accuracy of measuring unconjugated bilirubin using the UnaG method. According to the study, the method directly measures the concentration of unconjugated bilirubin in the blood to a sensitivity of 10,000 times that of conventional methods.

The research team also confirmed that results using the UnaG method were not affected by interference from conjugated bilirubin, hemoglobin or lipids. Because of the high sensitivity of the UnaG method, just one microliter of blood was required from each sample to carry out the experiment.

Future plans for this research include developing a simpler analysis kit that can be used in clinical practice.

The article can be found at: Iwatani et al. (2016) Fluorescent Protein-based Detection Of Unconjugated Bilirubin In Newborn Serum.


Source: Kobe University; Photo: Pixabay.
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