Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lung in a Box – a Biological Sensor

Gizmo Uses Lung Cells To Sniff Out Health Hazards In Urban Air(Richard Harris, NPR News, May 31, 2013) min 10 sec mp3 sound file)


Today we review an interview with Professors Harvey Jeffries and Will Vizuete at the University of North Carolina who developed a simulated “lung in a box” into which polluted air and particulates could be injected and tested with lung cells to determine health impacts. In an excellent video, pollution is observed before and after it is “cooked” for a day, resembling the effect of sunshine and warmth added to raw pollution to produce smog with ten times the health impact compared to original air sample. The hope of these inventors is to see these kinds of biological sensors distributed in many cities that experience pollution so that impacts can be readily diagnosed and dealt with.

Key Quotes:
“NPR's Richard Harris tells us how this new device uses lung cells to measure health hazards in the air more directly”

“Vizuete and Jeffries show off a machine that sucks in air from the chamber on the roof. The air blows across samples of human lung cells, which grow in small indentations in the instrument. If the air is toxic, the cells send out hormone-like distress signals that scientists can measure”

“it's filled with clean air to begin with, but we can create any kind of atmosphere in here that simulates any place on the earth — or any place in Los Angeles," Jeffries says. "We can try diesel cars, or we can try diesel trucks."

"Not all particles are created equal. Some particles happen to be more toxic than other particles….The health effects for particle exposure in New York are different from health effects for particle exposures in South Carolina and in the desert or in California."

"If you put the same material in here and cook it in the sun for a day, it becomes anything from five to 12 times more toxic,"

“Vizuete's vision is that someday these biological sensors will get scattered around cities. Instead of simply telling us what chemicals are in the air, they might tell us something about the actual health risks.”
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