An ongoing study examining the health effects of manganese on children in the Marietta area could soon have a new tool, with University of Cincinnati researchers developing a sensor that could provide faster, more comprehensive results.
Erin Haynes, an environmental health researcher with the University of Cincinnati, said she's been working closely with Ian Papautsky, an engineering professor at the college, on the development of the sensor. Chemistry professor William Heineman is also involved with the project.
"In the clinic setting and in research, we're drawing blood on the pediatric population and measuring them for metals. In the clinic setting, the turnround time (for results) can be 48 hours and in research studies, sometimes the families won't get results back for six to nine months," Haynes explained. "I was thinking it would be great to develop a diabetes-type sensor for metals and (Papautsky) embraced the concept and he received federal funding to conduct the development."
Papautsky said the sensor has many advantages besides providing data in just a few minutes.
He said instead of collecting the conventional five milliliters of blood to test manganese levels, the sensor will collect only 100 microliters - or about one drop - of blood.
"It would be more of a child friendly platform because it uses less blood," he said.
Papautsky added that the sensor will also allow researchers to detect more than just manganese in the blood.
"We demonstrated we can do a measurement of manganese, lead and cadmium and we can use a single sample - a drop of blood - and do a measurement of all three metals on the same sample," he said.
Haynes said the university has provided funding in "small amounts" to get the project off the ground but a $275,000 federal grant awarded earlier this year is enabling further development of the sensor.
"Once it's been determined safe and effective, then we would be applying it in the CARES (Community Actively Researching Exposure Study) in the future," she said. "I don't want to test it on children - it will be tested on adults in Cincinnati."
"There's a lot of work to be done before it is used on children," Haynes added.
It was announced in April 2008 that $2.6 million in federal funding had been secured for the CARES study, which is looking at the possible effects of manganese on neurological and cognitive development in children.
There has been little research completed on the health effects of manganese, which is required at a low level in human bodies. Some studies have linked high levels to tremors or movement disorders in children.
Manganese is emitted into local air by Eramet, on Ohio 7 outside Marietta, the only manganese refinery in the U.S. and Canada.
Eramet spokeswoman Joy Frank-Collins said the plant is making efforts to reduce emissions.
"In the past three years since we announced our vision for transformation of the facility, there has been $40 million invested in the Eramet Route 7 facility in infrastructure changes and upgrades to equipment that has improved the operational output of the facility," she said. "We have additional projects that we're looking at on the horizon that will continue to move the plant down this path."
She added that Eramet "follows closely any serious scientific study that's conducted on products that we use and work with every day."
Haynes has partnered with Marietta College to complete the local study.
"We have roughly over 250 (already tested) and with those we have scheduled up through the fall, we'll be at nearly 75 of our target enrollment," she said. "We hope to have 300 from Wood and Washington Counties participate and hopefully 100 from Guernsey County."
Children ages 7 to 9 who live in those counties and whose mothers lived in those counties while pregnant with the child may apply. Families will receive $125 for participating.
"All of the testing takes place at the Center for Families and Children on campus," said Marietta College psychology professor Mary Barnas.
Parents interested in including their child in the study should contact research assistant Jody Alden at 1-866-AIR-3305.