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Plastic use could cloud test results

24th November 2008

According to a study published in Science, two compounds found in plastics (commonly used in laboratory equipment when conducting experiments) could be affecting biomedical test results.

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The study showed there was "clear evidence of these compounds leaching out of plastics," said Andrew Holt, a pharmacologist at the University of Alberta, Canada and main author.

The plastics impact the three major groups of molecules - enzymes, receptors and ion channels - which control nearly all the body's systems.

Dr Holt found out about the plastic compounds' effects when conducting his own tests into
monoamine oxidase (MAO) B. This enzyme is responsible for the regulation of dopamine and could have potential in treating Parkinson's disease.

His team were looking at how drugs could inhibit MAO-B, but were coming up with conflicting results. One result they would see regularly was when the enzyme became inhibited by drug levels they "knew were too low to be causing such potent effects".

"After several months of tearing our hair out," Dr Holt said they decided that the plastic tubes they were using in the experiment must be affecting the results.

Dr Holt and his team discovered that some plastics "strongly blocked" the enzyme's activity. For example, some German-made plastic tubes had no effect on their tests, but Italian-manufactured tubes did.

The team were able to identify the two compounds as quaternary ammonium biocides and a fatty acid amide, oleamide.

Dr Holt said that companies "deliberately included" the compounds when making plastics in order to change their properties.

He added that the plastics companies needed to look at how they manufacture their lab plastics with the aim of offering a variety of equipment. This means scientists would be able to ensure they were using a type of plastic which would not affect their result.

Until that happened, Dr Holt warned: "each individual researcher really is going to have to make themselves aware of [these compounds] and screen them in their own particular assay systems."

 

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