Biomedical applications of accelerator mass spectrometry : isotope measurements at the level of the atom

Barker, James and Garner, R.C (1999) Biomedical applications of accelerator mass spectrometry : isotope measurements at the level of the atom. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 13(4), pp. 285-293. ISSN (print) 0951-4198


Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is a nuclear physics technique developed about twenty years ago, that uses the high energy (several MeV) of a tandem Van de Graaff accelerator to measure very small quantities of rare and long-lived isotopes. Elements that are of interest in biomedicine and environmental sciences can be measured, often to parts per quadrillion sensitivity, i.e. zeptomole to attomole levels (10(-21)-10(-18) mole) from milligram samples. This is several orders of magnitude lower than that achievable by conventional decay counting techniques, such as liquid scintillation counting (LSC). AMS was first applied to geochemical, climatological and archaeological areas, such as for radiocarbon dating (Shroud of Turin), but more recently this technology has been used for bioanalytical applications. In this sphere, most work has been conducted using aluminium, calcium and carbon isotopes. The latter is of special interest in drug metabolism studies, where a Phase 1 adsorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) study can be conducted using only 10 nanoCurie (37 Bq or ca. 0.9 microSv) amounts or less of 14C-labelled drugs. In the UK, these amounts of radioactivity are below those necessary to request specific regulatory approval from the Department of Health's Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee (ARSAC), thus saving on valuable development time and resources. In addition, the disposal of these amounts is much less an environmental issue than that associated with microCurie quantities, which are currently used. Also, AMS should bring an opportunity to conduct "first into man" studies without the need for widespread use of animals. Centre for Biomedical Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (CBAMS) Ltd. is the first fully commercial company in the world to offer analytical services using AMS. With its high throughput and relatively low costs per sample analysis, AMS should be of great benefit to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries as well as other life science areas.

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