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Animal research, Health, Scientific progress

07 - 07 - 2016

Better protecting baby… with eels !

 new method has allowed Japanese researchers to more accurately detect toxic bilirubin, a chemical responsible for jaundice*, and some neurological disabilities in newborns. EXPLANATIONS.



La jaunisse du nouveau-né : un symptôme révélateur. © Allodocteurs > Click here to view the video.

 Unconjugated bilirubin (UCB), a product of the breakdown of hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying molecule in red blood cells), is a pigment normally processed by the liver into bilirubin and excreted in the urine or stool. However, sometimes, the liver of the newborn is still at a very immature stage and is unable to perform its role efficiently. UCB then accumulates in the blood and turns the skin, nails and more yellow. This is called jaundice or physiological jaundice. 


Harmless most of the time, the compound can also lead to neurological complications, such as cerebral palsy or hearing loss when blood levels of UCB increase. Researchers from Kobe University and the Riken Institute have developed and clinically approved an effective new detection method to monitor UCB blood levels : the UNAG method.


Based on a fluorescent protein extracted from the muscles of Japanese eels, this technique is a real breakthrough ! It allows the measurement of bilirubin concentration, 10.000 times more accurately than conventional methods, including bilirubinoxidase. It also allowed the analysis of 140 serum samples from 92 infants, including 35 from children treated with phototherapy (the current treatment against jaundice), without the negative interference of hemoglobin and lipids in the serum samples ** - the main issue with conventional methods. 



D’après Le Figaro, plus de 50 % des nouveau-nés à terme et plus de 90 % des prématurés présentent un ictère en période néonatale, c’est-à-dire une jaunisse. © Guillaume Brialon/Flickr


The UNAG method has another advantage. In addition to being precise, it required only a few microliters of blood to determine the concentration of UCB. This is an ideal volume for the medical staff, which cares for premature or sick young children and can only sample limited blood volumes. This is a methods welcomed by pediatricians, that researchers want to establish in medical centers by developing simple test kits. 



Marie-Anaïs Lien



* Jaundice: yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes such as the nails, or the whites of the eyes.

** Serum: blood fluid cleared of cells and coagulation proteins which allow (among other things) the healing of surface wounds of the skin.