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Researchers from Umeå University in Sweden have described a new method to study biochemical changes that occur in the pancreas during the development of diabetes.

The method, recently published in Scientific Reports, is based on molecular spectroscopy and can be used to extract biochemical profiles (or ‘fingerprints’) containing information about disease progression. The method could facilitate improved understanding of the mechanistic processes on molecular and cellular levels that are key to the development of diabetes.

The method uses vibrational microspectroscopic technology, including Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) and Raman microspectroscopy.

Different compounds have unique molecular vibrations that can be detected using infrared light or laser. These vibrations contain information about the sample’s chemical composition, including molecular characteristics, prevalence and structure. It’s usually very difficult to interpret the extremely complex results and vast amount of data that this kind of assessment produces. By using advanced statistical methods, researchers can filter out ‘noise’ such as, for example, natural variations. This results in a better overview and allows researchers to focus on the important factors.

‘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 András Gorzsás, researcher at the Department of Chemistry and co-author of the article.

In the Scientific Reports article, the researchers describe how a method for multivariate statistical analysis enables them to handle multiple variables simultaneously and thus analyse complex data from vibrational microspectroscopy of the pancreas. Using this method, which until now has been used primarily to study plant tissues, the researchers show 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 also be detected, but at even earlier stages of disease progression compared to what has been described by other techniques.

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