In Da Lab – Celebrating Medical Laboratory Scientist Week!


Brain Training

The brain has two hemi­spheres, each divided into four lobes. Each lobe is respon­si­ble for dif­fer­ent func­tions. For instance the frontal cor­tex (in orange below) is respon­si­ble for deci­sion mak­ing and plan­ning; the tem­po­ral lobe (in green) for lan­guage and mem­ory; and the pari­etal lobe (in red) for spa­tial skills. The occip­i­tal lobe (in blue) is entirely devoted to vision: It is thus the place where visual illu­sions happen.


The frontal lobe rep­re­sents around 41% of total cere­bral cor­tex vol­ume; the tem­po­ral lobe 22%; the pari­etal lobe 19%; and the occip­i­tal lobe 18%. How the visual sys­tem processes shapes, col­ors, sizes, etc. has been researched for decades. One way to under­stand more about this sys­tem is to look at how we can trick it, that is, to look at how the brain reacts to visual illusions.

Here are some visual illu­sions to give your visual system a work-out…


Are the squares inside the blue and yel­low squares all the same color?

square color illusion test









Are the two hor­i­zon­tal lines of the same length?

mueller visual games

Do you see gray dots at the inter­sec­tions of the white lines?

herman grid illusion test


Can you see a baby?

baby illusion test


How many triangles can you see?

empty triangle illusion test








Want to see the solutions? Go here and have a peek…

New laser technology could revolutionise early detection of skin cancers

A method of skin cancer detection that bypasses the need for biopsies has been developed by a team of researchers from the University of Queensland and Britain’s University of Leeds.

The technique involves using laser technology to identify the extent of skin cancer, and the Queensland Government is backing the project with almost $200,000. The laser technology is being used to detect and treat skin cancers in the early stages.  It will potentially save patients going through invasive surgical removal of skin lesions, which often remove healthy as well as damaged tissue.

The Queensland Government is so pleased with the progress of the research that it is providing $180,000 in funding.  Queensland Science Minister Ian Walker says the results are extremely promising.

Minister Walker says “The important part of this research is that Queenslanders are highly susceptible to skin cancer, so about one in two Queenslanders will develop skin cancers in their life time. And at the moment people who are unfortunate enough to have suspected skin cancers, and I was one myself, have to have a little bit of their skin cut out and have that analysed.

What this technology will do is it will allow a laser beam to effectively look at the skin and in fact to look just a little bit below the skin – about 150 microns down into the skin – to detect the cancer without having to remove the skin and have it done by of biopsies.”

The prototype laser imaging system uses the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum, that until recently was almost impossible to work with.  The terahertz laser gives a more accurate picture of what’s going on under the surface of the skin, and is also harmless to humans.

Lead researcher from the University of Queensland Dr Yah Leng Lim says while they are years off the technology being available in doctors’ surgeries, the potential is there to revolutionise the way skin cancer is treated.  “It definitely has huge potential, we are quite excited about and we are working closely with dermatologists as well and also we have collaborator in Leeds who are also working on these lasers. It’s not a single man effort, it’s quite big effort.

How long before this technology could actually be used? Dr Lim says “I hope it’s really as early as possible, but that’s a really big hope at the moment because as you know it’s in the level three settings.  The system is bulky, huge. Moreover the laser itself requires cryogenic cooling. But DVD and CD levels, they were similar kind of devices, requiring this kind of bulky instrument to work with for a start but eventually they’ll become a household item. So I really hope that eventually we can make a portable device suitable for a clinical setting.”

Science Minister Ian Walker says the treatment will hopefully save lives and substantially cut treatment costs.  “Although it’s still very much in its infancy, if it taken through to its conclusion it would allow that sort of scanning to take place in the surgery without the need for people to have skin cut out and a biopsy done.   It’s been a great cooperation between the University of Queensland and Leeds University.  Leeds University has the particular skill in relation to the laser beam that is used and the particular band of the spectrum used – it’s called the terahertz band, which is a band that needs the machine to be at the moment cooled down to about minus 220 degrees Celsius for the appropriate beam to be generated.  That is it all that needs to be worked on of course to turn that into a commercial application, but the early signs are very good.”


Predict a Patient’s Probability of Death within Five Years?

May 19, 2014

Researchers in Finland have discovered four biomarkers in blood that appear to accurately identify individuals at high-risk of death in the short term 

Will there be demand for a medical laboratory test that can help pathologists accurately predict the probability of death within five years for an individual? New research emerging from Europe suggests that such a diagnostic assay may be feasible.

More remarkable, this clinical laboratory test may be as simple as testing for the concentration of four biomarkers in blood. In combination, these biomarkers indicate the status of metabolism in all humans that can possibly predict when an individual will die. According to researchers, their relative amounts are crucial to determining if an individual is at high risk for death within five years.

Finnish Researchers Close to Developing a Diagnostic Test

These discoveries emerged from a 10-year study conducted in Finland by the global Computational Medicine Research Group, University of Oulu, and the University of Eastern Finland (UEF).

Click here to see photo
Mika Ala-Korpela, Ph.D. (pictured above), was one of the lead researchers of a study that determined that four biomarkers in blood could be accurate predictors of death within five years. The study was done in Finland by a team at the Computional Medicine Institute. (Photo copyright the Computational Medicine Institute.)
Biomarker Score in Top 20% Marked Subjects for Death within 5 Years

The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine in February 25, 2014. It was titled: “Biomarker Profiling by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy for the Prediction of All-Cause Mortality: An Observational Study of 17,345 Persons.”  It involved 17,345 Finish and Estonian subjects. A team of Computational Medicine researchers was led by University of Oulu Professor Mika Ala-Korpela, Ph.D., and UEF Assistant Professor Pasi Soinien, Ph.D., who heads the university’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Metabolomics Laboratory.

The researchers measured 106 biomarkers in blood samples of subjects using NMR spectroscopy. Following up, they examined health records of both the Estonian Biobank and FINRISK cohorts and identified 684 subjects, ages 18 to 103 years, who had died over the next 5.4 years. The majority of these deaths were from heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Using statistical analysis, researchers searched for links between the levels of different biomarkers in the blood and people’s short-term risk of dying. They also factored in other health issues that might contribute to the onset of life-threatening diseases. These variables included age, weight; tobacco and alcohol use; cholesterol level; and history of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, noted study authors.

Just Four Biomarkers Seem to Accurately Predict Short-term Death

Notably, it is the levels of four biomarkers that appeared to accurately predict short-term death. Those biomarkers are:

  • plasma albumin
  • alpha-1-acid glycoprotein
  • very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particle size
  • citrate

Individuals with scores in the top 20% had a risk of dying within five years. This was 19 times greater than that of individuals with a score in the bottom 20%—288 versus 15 deaths.

Biomarkers Trumped Other Health Risks in Predicting Death 

“Out of all available risk factors, the biomarker summary score was the strongest predictor of all-cause mortality in the Estonian Biobank cohort,” wrote the authors of the study. They noted that persons with a very high biomarker score were associated with substantially higher mortality rates than those with average biomarker levels. Additionally, hazard estimates were similar in analyses limited to individuals without prevalent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.

Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers are likely to recognize the fact that the four biomarkers associated with mortality are implicated in various pathophysiological mechanisms. These include inflammation, fluid imbalance, lipoprotein metabolism, and metabolic homeostasis, as explained by the study authors.

Alpha-1-Acid Glycoprotein Identified as Strongest Risk Factor

The acute phase protein alpha-1-acid glycoprotein is elevated in response to infection and inflammation. Plasma levels of alpha-1-acid glycoprotein have been associated with all-cause mortality in elderly persons, as well as cardiovascular mortality and prognosis of certain cancers, they noted. “Here, alpha-1-acid glycoprotein was the strongest multivariate predictor of the risk of death from all causes,” the authors wrote. They further noted that alpha-1-acid glycoprotein additionally influenced the association of several VLDL lipid measures.

They pointed out that low levels of plasma albumin—a marker of liver and kidney function, nutritional status, and inflammation—is associated with increased mortality from vascular, nonvascular, and cancer causes. The strong inverse association of albumin with short-term risk of death may, therefore, be considered as a positive control in the biomarker discovery.

VLDL Particle Risk Intensified by Alpha-1-Acid Glycoprotein Level

Triglyceride-mediated lipoprotein metabolism is recognized as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and average size of VLDL particles may be an overall indicator of triglyceride metabolism.

“In this study, VLDL particle size was inversely associated with risk of death, and the association became stronger when alpha-1-acid glycoprotein was included in the multivariate model, which might indicate a combined effect of perturbed triglyceride metabolism and low-grade inflammation,” wrote the study authors. They pointed out that this finding is supported by genetic evidence.

Study Identifies Citrate as a Mortality Risk Factor for First Time

Citrate—which acts as a chelator to modulate calcium, magnesium, and zinc ion concentrations—exhibits anticoagulating properties and is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, making it central to energy metabolism. While not previously implicated as a biomarker for mortality, increased citrate was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular death and cancer death among Estonian participants, continued the study authors.

Additionally, they called attention to a recent molecular profiling study, published in the journal Science. This study indicated that citric acid cycle deviations, including elevated citrate levels, were predictive of death from sepsis in hospital settings.

What This Study Means

“Identifying individuals who are at high risk [of death] using these biomarkers might help to target preventative medical treatments to those with the greatest need,” wrote the PLOS Medicine Editor Cosetta Minelli, Ph.D., of the Imperial College London.

She cautioned, however, “As an observational study, it provides evidence of only a correlation between a biomarker score and ill health. It does not identify any underlying causes. Other factors, not detectable by NMR spectroscopy, might be the true cause of serious health problems and would provide a more accurate assessment of risk.” Minelli suggested that more research is needed to determine whether testing for these biomarkers would provide clinical benefit.

While this study may not be conclusive, its implications cannot be ignored. Further research is needed to verify the results and develop appropriate treatments to prevent early death. The potential of such a clinical laboratory test would place pathology groups in the unique position of identifying patients at high-risk of early death. It would also add another medical laboratory test to those physicians routinely order to determine health status of patients.

—by Patricia Kirk

Related Information:

Biomarker Profiling by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy for the Prediction of All-Cause Mortality: An Observational Study of 17,345 Persons

An Integrated Clinico-Metabolomic Model Improves Prediction of Death in Sepsis

Biomarked for Death—Four Blood Proteins Can Predict Early Demise

Blood Test Accurately Predicts Risk Of Death: Clues Found In 4 Biomarkers In Blood

The UT’s Estonian Genome Center and Finnish researchers discovered novel blood biomarkers related to mortality