Image: The method uses vibrational microspectroscopic technology, including Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) and Raman laser microspectroscopy, to detect the unique molecular vibrations of different compounds. These vibrations contain information about the sample’s chemical composition, including molecular characteristics, prevalence, and structure (Photo courtesy of Umeå University).
Researchers report a method to study biochemical changes that occur in the pancreas during the development of diabetes. Based on vibrational microspectroscopic technology, the method can be used to extract biochemical profiles containing information about disease progression. This could facilitate improved understanding of key mechanistic processes in diabetes development and manifestation, and could be used to develop better prognostic, diagnostic, and monitoring tools.
Despite the global prevalence of diabetes, researchers have had limited methods to study biochemical changes directly in the pancreas, a key organ for the development of diabetes. “This method is well-suited for studying biological samples since it does not damage the sample, does not require external markers such as antibody labels, and can be used in microscopy settings. The method can for example be used to determine which cell types are affected in a certain tissue, where, and how,” said study co-supervisor Dr. András Gorzsás, researcher at Umeå University (Umea, Sweden). The study was a collaborative effort with researcher teams at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway, and Karolinska Institute.
It is usually very difficult to interpret the extremely complex results and vast amount of data produces by vibrational microspectroscopy assessment. By using advanced statistical methods, noise (such as natural variations) can be filtered out, resulting in a better overview and allows researchers to focus on important factors. In the article the researchers describe how their method for multivariate statistical analysis enables them to handle multiple variables simultaneously and thus analyze the data from vibrational microspectroscopy of the pancreas.
Using this method, which until now has been used primarily to study plant tissues, the researchers showed that it is possible to discover previously unknown biochemical changes in the pancreas during disease development. In addition, previously known changes in the tissue may be detectable at even earlier stages of disease progression compared to what has been described by using other techniques.
“By using this method we can create biochemical fingerprints of all changes occurring in the pancreas. The fingerprints inform us of what cell type we are looking at, which animal model it comes from, and how far the disease has progressed. These fingerprints are so precise that even unknown samples can be classified if there is available reference material,” said study co-supervisor Ulf Ahlgren, professor at Umeå University.
Moreover, the researchers demonstrated in a transplantation experiment that Islets of Langerhans pancreatic tissue may be studied in vivo – in the living organism, suggesting the method could be used to analyze the pancreas from outside of the organ, without the need to obtain tissue samples.
“I believe this possibility to study pancreatic tissue and especially the biochemistry of the insulin-producing Islets of Langerhans in the living organism is a very interesting opportunity for diabetes research. The method could prove useful for example to study the direct effects of anti-diabetic therapies on the biochemical composition and function of insulin-producing cells” said Prof. Ahlgren.
The researchers are also hopeful that their findings can lay a foundation for developing better tools for identifying cancer tissue to be surgically removed as part of pancreatic cancer treatment.
The study, by Nord C et al, was published July 27, 2017, in the journal Scientific Reports.