KU Leuven: New technology from KU Leuven paves the way for fast and easy biomonitoring in living tissue

Professor Peter Dedecker and his research team at KU Leuven have developed a new method that enables researchers to quantify the concentration of calcium in living organisms over a longer period of time. Until now, this was only possible with complex test setups. This simplified method can be adapted to other molecules and tissues, making it a useful tool for translational research and application development.

It is becoming increasingly important to understand living cells for engineers, doctors, toxicologists and researchers in general. To visualize a molecule, you need both the right microscope and a suitable biomarker with a fluorescent label to mark your target. Until now, researchers had mainly had two options for understanding the inner workings of cells. The first option is to use fluorescent markers that can express the target in absolute values, but are associated with technical difficulties and complex measurement setups. The second option uses small biosensors that enable simple experiments. However, these sensors cannot read the quantities quantitatively, so that only relative concentrations can be measured.

This technique can help other researchers in their experiments, eventually leading to faster breakthroughs and applications. We are already in contact with several international labs to collaborate and help them apply our technique in their research.

Two birds with one stone
Researchers at KU Leuven have now succeeded in combining the best of both worlds: a method that uses small biosensors and that provides fast and complete, quantitative results. The technique also offers other advantages, such as measurements over longer periods of time.

To test their concept, they developed a new method to measure calcium levels in living cells. Fluctuations in calcium levels are important for many processes at the cellular level, such as nerve signal transmission and muscle contraction. Thanks to the new technique from Professor Dedecker’s lab, researchers can measure absolute changes in the calcium content under different conditions. “The advantage of our approach is that it not only works for calcium ions in nerve cells, but can be easily adapted to other molecules and can be used even in more complex tissues,” explains postdoctoral researcher Anaïs Bourges.

Small steps, big impact
Another plus is that the technique can be easily reproduced in other labs, because the method is independent of the light intensity of the instrument used. Thanks to this new approach, it becomes easier for laboratories to share and compare their results.

“Although we do basic research, we believe that this new method can be important for everyone. Research is a process of successive steps and our technique brings us one step closer to new insights in the life sciences”, says PhD student Franziska Bierbuesse.

Professor Peter Dedecker adds: “This technique can help other researchers in their experiments, ultimately leading to faster breakthroughs and applications. We are already in contact with several international labs to collaborate and help them apply our technique in their research.”

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