Could this be the new gold standard in mucus appraisal? Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used tiny particles of gold to help measure the thickness of human secretions -- an important diagnostic for people with diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.
Healthy lungs are kept snot-free by cilia, which line our airways like little hairs. These cilia catch mucus and pull it out of the lungs and into the throat so we can breathe easily.
Some diseases like cystic fibrosis make mucus form too thickly for this mechanism to work. It can get trapped in the lungs, making breathing laborious -- and even causing infections. There are drugs that help to thin the mucus, but it's important to monitor their effectiveness.
These researchers, who will present their work at the 98th annual meeting of The Optical Society in Tuscon this month, used gold nanorods to check mucus thickness.
Gold nanorods were dropped into samples of mucus, which were then lit up with a laser. By analyzing the way the light bounced off these tiny gold pieces, the researchers could track how quickly they were moving through the mucus. The faster the nanorods spread through it, the thinner it was.
The method might even be used directly within the body, because the analysis worked even when mucus was sliding around on top of other cells. It's going to take at least five years for the researchers to undertake human testing, though -- they want to be sure that the particles will pass right through the body instead of lingering.