22 October 2014 11:41

Researchers who pioneered a new type of biological analysis have published an important new paper in Nature Protocols, opening the door to further advances in their field.

Biospectroscopy - which emerged in the mid-1980’s - is an excellent method for biological analysis offering an alternative to traditional microscopy for cell analysis and medical diagnosis of conditions from endometriosis to cancer.

Unlike the microscope, biospectroscopy methods do not depend on the human eye or subjective interpretation to get a result.

Spectral data is passed through a variety of computational algorithms to generate an image or ‘fingerprint’ based on chemical bond vibrations within the sample. This fingerprint can be read to determine the underlying health status of the analysed sample.

But until now there has been no consensus on the precise scientific methods underpinning this process.

Researchers publishing in Nature have developed a sensitive and specific protocol for collecting Infrared spectra and images from biological samples. The paper also assess instrumental options available, appropriate sample preparation, different sampling modes as well as outlining important advances in spectral data acquisition.

Lancaster University’s Professor Frank Martin, lead author of the report in Nature Protocols, said: “Since the invention of the microscope we’ve depended on the human eye and human interpretation. Put two people side-by-side looking at the same sample down a microscope and often they will come up with different conclusions. Infrared spectroscopy is less dependent on human subjectivity. But one of the major difficulties in the field has been determining a consensus on spectral pre-processing and data analysis, which means there hasn’t been a standard way of working.

“This paper brings together many of the leading international scientists working in this area to agree upon standard methods and procedures. This will make a significant difference to our research field which is making great progress in areas from disease screening and diagnosis to toxicology and fundamental research into cell biology.”

The strong inter-disciplinary nature of this approach is highlighted by co-authors based in Lancaster Environment Centre, the Chemistry department and the School of Health and Medicine at Lancaster University.