UMass Dartmouth professor's research shines light on iron deficiency, overload in human body

Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor Maolin Guo's lab develops new imaging probes capable of detecting iron pools in living cells

UMass Dartmouth Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor Dr. Maolin Guo's lab has recently developed a new method for monitoring iron in living human cells via imaging probes, which could lead to better detection and treatment of diseases, such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, hemochromatosis and cardiovascular diseases. The probes generate a fluorescent response within the cells that allows scientists and researchers to better monitor iron levels. Dr. Guo's work is funded through two National Science Foundation grants totaling $739,000. 

"We are quite excited about the new imaging probes," Professor Guo said. "The probes we developed combined with the new tools we have utilized enable us to precisely monitor iron ions at subcellular resolution in live cells." 

Iron is the most abundant, nutritionally essential transition metal found in the human body. It plays important roles in various biological processes such as oxygen delivery, electron transport, enzymatic reactions and DNA synthesis and repair. However, iron can also catalyze the production of free radicals, which attack living cells and are linked to several diseases. Both iron deficiency and iron overload are related to various health problems. 

Precisely monitoring iron ions (Fe2+ and Fe3+) in the human body and other biological systems are important in understanding the detailed biological functions of iron and its trafficking pathways. However, effective tools for monitoring iron cells in biological systems remain a challenge. 

Professor Guo received two NSF grants in support of his research in 2012. His lab received $400,000 to develop the iron imaging probes and a $339,000 grant to support the acquisition of a 400 MHz digital Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer and an E-Scan Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectrometer which played critical roles in this research. 

Professor Guo's lab was able to develop chemically based probes that turn-on fluorescence based on the interactions between the probes and the iron ions in the living cells. The detection and mechanism of the interaction were verified by the magnetic properties of the probes using the EPR spectrometer. 

Professor Guo and his fellow researchers from UMass Dartmouth's Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology PhD program, the UMass Cranberry Health Research Center, and UMass Amherst recently published an article on their work in April in Dalton Transactions, a front line journal for inorganic, organometallic, and bioinorganic chemistry. Professor Guo was also recognized this year by UMass Dartmouth's Faculty Federation as Scholar of the Year. 

Dr. Guo's research is focused on the interface between chemistry, biology, and medicine. This exciting field is the foundation of modern biomedical sciences which provide molecular basis for various biomedical processes. The research team uses a multi-disciplinary approach including molecular biology, protein chemistry, synthetic and electro-chemistry, spectroscopy (NMR, UV-vis, MS, fluorescent, etc), microscopy and X-ray crystallography to investigate the molecular basis of certain genes, proteins, metal ions, reactive oxygen species (ROS) and signal transduction pathways related to cancer, aging, infectious, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The research goal is to understand the molecular basis of these biochemical processes and to develop novel strategies for diagnostics and therapeutics. Current research activities are focused on molecular imaging probes for iron and ROS detection in living systems as well as the health benefits of cranberry and related natural products.


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