In a new study, researchers found they could detect toxic levels of acetaminophen in laboratory animals by analyzing gene expression in the blood. This study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, could be a first step in developing accurate new tools to detect acetaminophen overdose in humans. Overdose of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relievers, is a leading cause of liver failure in the United States and is often difficult to diagnose. An estimated 50,000 people seek emergency room treatment for acetaminophen overdose each year.
The research published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that gene expression data from blood cells can provide valuable information about acetaminophen levels well before liver damage can be detected by other methods, including serum markers and liver biopsies.
In time, this approach could give physicians a powerful new genomics tool to help patients who cannot estimate how much acetaminophen they consumed. Early detection of acetaminophen overdoes can be helpful in preventing or treating resulting liver damage, said Richard S. Paules, Ph.D., principal investigator and director, Microarray Core Facility at NIEHS and senior author on the new paper.
The researchers would like to build on this body of research to develop a simple procedure that clinicians could use in the emergency room to estimate the level of acetaminophen exposure and the potential damage to the liver. This would be especially beneficial for patients such as the elderly, suicidal, semi-comatose who are unable to provide an accurate estimate.
To carry out their study, the researchers developed and then analyzed gene expression signatures patterns of gene activity in rats exposed to various doses of acetaminophen. Using microarrays, or tools that allow scientists to see how
|Contact: Robin Mackar|
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences