Search for traces of microplastics in humans: New joint research project funded
The PlasMark project, which has been awarded 4.5 million Euros by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, will start in October 2020 with the aim of investigating the consequences of microplastics in the human body. Methods from astrophysics will be applied.
The multidisciplinary research team from the fields of physics, biochemistry, biology and pharmacy is focusing on the question of how label-free diagnostics of plastic particles is possible. "We focus on three different state-of-the-art technologies," explains Prof. Martin Roth from the innoFSPEC research centre at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP). "In addition to confocal Raman spectroscopy and terahertz spectroscopy, which we know from the so-called body scanners at the airport, the suitability of multispectral light and electron microscopy for this purpose is being investigated.”
All three approaches - partly borrowed from astrophysics - are suitable for making statements about the chemical composition of a particle as well as visualising it. Raman spectroscopy take advantage of the fact that matter interacts with laser light, leaving behind a characteristic fingerprint - a spectrum in the scattered light. In this way it is also possible to assign the plastic particles to their original material - e.g. polyethylene, polystyrene or PVC. While this works well for sufficiently large pieces of plastic, the challenge for the team is to detect these fingerprints for small and minute particles. In addition, successfully scanning tissue samples with conventional Raman microscopes is very time-consuming and can take many hours to days. The innoFSPEC research centre at the AIP has set itself the goal of realising an imaging Raman spectroscopy setup that allows the identification of plastic particles within minutes or seconds. This is made possible by wide field spectrographs from astronomy - where this technique is used in observatories to save valuable observation time.
The joint project supports research at three Centres for Innovation Competence (ZIK) in the new federal states: ZIK plasmatis at the Leibniz Institute for Plasma Research and Technology Greifswald (INP), ZIK HIKE at the University Medical School and University of Greifswald and ZIK innoFSPEC at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP). The first results are expected to be available in two years' time in order to be able to better answer the question to what extent the contamination of the environment and thus of the human body with microplastic particles is one of the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases or even cancer.
Press release of the Leibniz Institute for Plasma Science and Technology e.V. (INP)