Hongzhe Sun and co-workers, University of Hong Kong, have tracked the uptake of bismuth in single Helicobacter pylori cells by using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). In doing so, the team has demonstrated that ICP-MS can not only be applied to bulk biological samples, but is also an effective technique for monitoring metal uptake at the single-cell level by providing time-resolved details of the uptake process. The process removes the need for acid digestion of the bulk sample, which is tedious and prone to contamination and sample loss.
Bismuth complexes are used in conjunction with antibiotics to treat H. pylori infections which cause peptic ulcers. The team showed that there is a competitive transport pathway involving bismuth and ferric ions in H. pylori. This improved understanding of the uptake process could lead to the development of improved anti-ulcer drugs.
The research also serves as proof of concept and could see the single-cell IPC-MS technique extended to the rapid diagnosis of metal-relevant diseases and identification of metal-related genes.
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