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Chinese Researchers Develop Non-Invasive Clinical Laboratory Skin Test for Measuring Cholesterol

Study also may have found relationship between atherosclerosis and cholesterol

Chinese scientists have developed a cutting-edge method for non-invasively monitoring blood cholesterol levels in humans. The innovative technology utilizes images of skin on hands and may eliminate the need for both invasive venipunctures and fasting for testing cholesterol. Given the large volumes of blood cholesterol tests currently performed by clinical laboratories, this new technology could have significant impact on cholesterol testing if further studies confirm its capabilities.

Notably, the Chinese researchers have apparently already developed a lab analyzer to perform the procedure and it is being used in clinical care. However, in the United States and other countries, this technology will require additional clinical studies and regulatory review before clinical laboratories would be able to use it in daily patient care.

The cholesterol sensing system consists of a detection reagent associated with a fluorescent group that binds to skin cholesterol, and a detection device. Cholesterol levels are easily obtained from the skin, according to the researchers, by analyzing the manner in which the skin absorbs and scatters light via a scanner.

Should this technology be validated for clinical care, it could replace other invasive clinical laboratory tests for cholesterol measurement.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease, titled, “Non-invasive Skin Cholesterol Testing: A Potential Proxy for LDL-C and ApoB Serum Measurements.”

Demonstration of how non-invasive cholesterol test is performed

The series of images above, taken from the researchers’ Lipids in Health and Disease published study, demonstrates how their non-invasive clinical laboratory test for total blood cholesterol is performed. Non-invasive clinical laboratory tests for monitoring biomarkers in the blood are always preferred by patients over veinous punctures and fasting. (Photo copyright: Hefei Institutes of Physical Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences.)

First Evidence of Relationship between Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis

“Just put your hands on, and the system will tell you the cholesterol data,” Yikun Wang, PhD, Professor, Department of Physical Sciences, Hefei Institutes of Physical Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and leader of the research team, told Diagnostics World. “Cholesterol is one of several types of fats (lipids) that play an important role in human body, we can track your fats in this simple way.”

To perform the testing, clinicians first clean the test site located on the fleshy edge of the palm of the hand with an alcohol swab. A patient’s non-dominant hand is used for the test as the skin on that hand is typically less abrasive and contains fewer melanocytes, which allows for more stable results. A plastic-coated annulus is then applied to the test site and the examined portion is positioned on the measuring hole of the detection system to measure the background light spectrum of the skin.

Once the background signal is ascertained, the detection reagent is added to the annulus until it is full. After 60 seconds, any excess detection reagent is removed from the annulus. A cleaning reagent is then added to the annulus for 30 seconds and removed with a sterile cotton swab. The treated portion of the skin is then placed over the measuring hole of the detection system and two spectrums of light are compared to measure the skin cholesterol, which accurately correlates to the cholesterol in the bloodstream.

“Compared to in-situ detection used in the previous clinical research, our device may offer more accurate results for we can avoid the influence of pressure and skin background differences [person to person],” Wang said. “Study results offer the first evidence of a relationship between skin cholesterol and atherosclerotic disease in a Chinese population, which may be of great significance to researchers around the world.”

Initially, 154 patients diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) between January 2020 and April 2021 were involved in the study. However, only 121 of those patients were included in the final study with the remaining being excluded due to at least one of the following criteria:

  • History of statin drug use,
  • Inability to tolerate statins,
  • Severe hepatic (liver) or renal (kidney) insufficiency, and
  • Obesity.

Clinician Use Can Affect Accuracy of Test

Developed by researchers from the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of Science and Technology of China, the researchers noted that how clinicians operate the device can have an impact on the accuracy of the test results.

“A critical step in the [testing] process that is subject to operator variability is blotting, which requires the operator to remove an unbound detector from the palm before adding the indicator,” Wang told Diagnostics World. “Excess residual indicator solution can result in falsely increased skin cholesterol levels. Considering this, we are planning to develop a simplified and standardized blotting procedure.”

Millions of people in the US live with illness that requires regular monitoring of blood cholesterol. Normal total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 94 million US adults over the age of 20 have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL and 28 million adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL. In addition, 7% of children and adolescents between the ages of six and 19 have high cholesterol. For these reasons, cholesterol testing represents a substantial portion of the clinical laboratory tests performed daily in this country.  

This new non-invasive technology for monitoring total blood cholesterol in humans could greatly benefit patients, especially if it eliminates the need for venipunctures and fasting prior to testing. Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists may want to follow the progress of this new cholesterol testing technology as it demonstrates its value in China and is submitted for regulatory review in this country.

JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Non-invasive Scanning Tech Reads Blood Cholesterol Levels via the Skin

Non-invasive Skin Cholesterol Testing: A Potential Proxy for LDL-C and ApoB Serum Measurements

Researchers Develop Novel System for Rapid and Non-invasive Detection of Skin Cholesterol

Noninvasive Detection System to Prevent Cardiovascular Diseases

Skin Cholesterol Testing Could Play Role in Lipid Screening and Management

CDC: High Cholesterol Facts