Johns Hopkins researchers have devised a new way to test for certain proteins in the bloodstream to estimate levels of essential vitamins and minerals without directly testing for each one.
The new test, detailed in The Journal of Nutrition
, could allow clinicians to indirectly measure amounts of multiple nutrients in multiple people at the same time — making it possible to rapidly detect nutritional deficiencies of an entire population, apply remediation efforts, and test their worth within months instead of years.
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"Currently, levels of each vitamin or mineral are measured by different tests which are often performed in different labs, so the whole process can take three or four years to detect widespread deficiencies," said lead researcher Keith West. "That's too long to wait when the proper growth and cognitive development of children are on the line."
The findings are based on an analysis of five vitamins and minerals in 500 undernourished Nepalese children.
West noted more than 30 vitamins and minerals are essential to human health, and conventional methods for measuring their levels require costly, cumbersome multiple different tests for each person. But a chemical analysis technique, known as mass spectrometry, allows for tests of 500 to 1,000 proteins in the blood at one time, noted Robert Cole, director of the Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Facility at Johns Hopkins.
"Not only that, we can mark all of the proteins from a single sample with a chemical tag that identifies them in the resulting data," he added. "Because there are eight different tags available, we could tag eight different samples and then mix them together and analyze the eight samples at the same time, directly comparing the samples and saving a lot of time."
Researchers expect the same technique could be used to track hormone and protein levels that occur due to the progression of difficult-to-define diseases like Alzheimer's.
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