Raman scanner takes antioxidant snapshot in seconds

A 90-second, noninvasive test using the palm of a person's hand can yield a snapshot of carotenoid levels (an antioxidant that protects cells from damage caused by free radicals) and indicate overall nutritional health.

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A 90-second, noninvasive test using the palm of a person's hand can yield a snapshot of carotenoid levels (an antioxidant that protects cells from damage caused by free radicals) and indicate overall nutritional health. Done by the Pharmanex BioPhotonic Scanner from Nu Skin (Provo, UT), the test gathers data that, in turn, can help to ward off certain types of disease.

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Nu Skin's Pharmanex BioPhotonic Scanner measures carotenoid—-a type of antioxidant—in a person's skin tissue, and does so in less than two minutes thanks to dual-wavelength excitation via LEDs. (Image courtesy of Nu Skin)

Scientists at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT) originally developed the device as they studied eye health, using a laser and spectrometer in their equipment, says Jocelyn Shaw, public relations at Nu Skin. In 2001, the company bought the rights to the technology and improved it by making it smaller, portable, and with a better light source. The resonance Raman spectroscopy-based scanner measures carotenoid levels using two light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for dual-wavelength excitation: When a 473 nm photon comes into contact with a carotenoid, it becomes a 510 nm photon. Other components of the scanner include four photomultiplier tubes for multichannel detection, and bandpass filters to enable selection of excitation and detection wavelengths.1 What's more, the scanner measures with >10% repeatability.

High amounts of free radicals are caused by environmental pollution, unbalanced diets, preservatives and additives in food, insufficient physical exercise, mental stress, and even breathing. So when carotenoid levels are left unchecked, free radical damage to cells accumulates and can lead to serious health concerns later—including cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration.

Anthony M. Vernava III, a staff physician in colorectal surgery at Physicians Regional Healthcare System (Naples, FL), calls the carotenoid scan "a valuable biomarker, incredibly accurate, as good as a tissue biopsy, and as important as serum levels."

1. S. D. Bergeson et al., J. Biomed. Opt., 13, 4, 044026 (2008).

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