The pigment that gives spinach and other plants their verdant color may improve doctors’ ability to examine the human gastrointestinal tract, according to research conducted in part by the University at Buffalo.
“Our work suggests that this spinach-like, nanoparticle juice can help doctors get a better look at what’s happening inside the stomach, intestines and other areas of the GI tract,” said Jonathan Lovell, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the study’s corresponding author.
To examine the gastrointestinal tract, doctors typically use X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasounds, but these techniques are limited with respect to safety, accessibility and lack of adequate contrast, respectively. Doctors also perform endoscopies, in which a tiny camera attached to a thin tube is inserted into the patient’s body. While effective, this procedure is challenging to perform in the small intestine, and it can cause infections, tears and pose other risks.
The new study, which builds upon Lovell’s previous medical imaging research, is a collaboration between researchers at UB and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It focuses on chlorophyll, a pigment found in spinach and other green vegetables that is essential to photosynthesis and used in liquid form.
Additional studies are needed, but the drink has potential because it:
- Works in different imaging techniques.
- Moves stably through the gut.
- Is naturally consumed in the human diet already.
“The veggie juice allows for techniques that are not commonly used today by doctors for imaging the gut like photoacoustic, PET, and fluorescence,” Lovell said in a news release. “And part of the appeal is the safety of the juice.”
The research was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.