The body is a highly complex machine that achieves remarkable things that are crucial for our survival. While we are a long way from fully understanding it, we are nevertheless constantly learning new things and unlocking new secrets – and the more we do the more we can start to control it and affect it in ways that are beneficial to our health and well being.
Every supplement you take, and every test the doctor runs is the result of our increasing knowledge of the human body – the practical wizardry of men in white coats. So how do they achieve all this and learn so much? Of course you’re not going to learn to be a biochemist as the result of one article, but we can learn a little. Here we will be looking at bioanalysis and pharmacokinetics – two important fields in the understanding of the human body and the development of new medicines and drugs.
Bioanalysis is the analysis of biological data in order to identify the presence or otherwise of other matter whether it is homogenous or exogenous. This is achieved in many ways, through the use of ‘biomarkers’ for instance which will react when they come into contact with particular materials in a way that is easily detectable, and through blood samples and more. There are a host of bioanalytical techniques and they have a vast variety of applications. For instance:
Forensics: Bioanalysis is highly useful in forensics in order to establish the cause of death and whether or not the deceased may have ingested any substances. For instance in a crime scene, the presence of alcohol or narcotics in the blood of the victim may shed new light on what happened.
Sports: Blood tests for athletes are a form of bioanalysis, and here are used again to test for the presence of drugs – in this case most likely performance enhancing drugs that might affect the athlete’s physical ability and thereby give them an unfair advantage over the competition.
Biology: The study of biology of course involves a degree of bioanalysis in order to learn about the organism and how they operate.
Medicine: Blood tests are of course also used in medicine as a way to look for signs of illness in patients. In some cases it is not the bacteria or problem itself that the bioanalysis looks for, but rather the antibodies created in defense of the condition. By looking for the body’s responses it is often possible to infer underlying conditions.
Bioanalysis is also highly crucial in the development of new drugs and supplements and is used to test the way they work and how they progress through the body. Literally this is the study of how various substances ‘pass’ through our system and how the body processes them. Many sources make the distinction that this is the study not of how a drug affects the body, but of how the body affects that drug. So how is this useful?
Well the answer is down to our metabolism. When you consume anything it is digested, absorbed, eliminated and used by the body and as this happens it passes through the body in various ways. First for instance it will be broken down by the stomach acids (assuming it was consumed), then it will be absorbed into the bloodstream, then it will be carried around the body and distributed in certain areas depending on its nature. Finally the remaining substance that hasn’t been used will be ‘eliminated’ by being excreted from the body.
To remember this process, bioanalysts use the acronym ‘ADME’ – which stands for: Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, and Excretion. The metabolism aspect here refers to how the drug is transformed or altered by the body into its daughter metabolites.
Method and Application
The way pharmacokinetics is studied is using the bioanalysis methods explained earlier. Here blood samples and tissue samples will be taken at various stages in the life cycle of the drug. For instance by doing blood tests it is possible to see just how quickly the substance enters the blood stream after being ingested. Likewise by taking tissue samples of the brain it’s possible to see whether or not the substance successfully passes through the ‘blood brain barrier’. In an antipsychotic medication or a sleeping aid for instance this would be critical.
This can be done ‘in vivo’ or ‘in vitro’ meaning on dead or live tissue. In the case of taking a brain sample for instance this would likely involve doing bioanalysis on a dead specimen such as a lab rat after it had consumed the substance.
This then is highly helpful for companies and researchers developing new medications as it allows them to ensure that they are being effectively delivered to the parts of the body where the active agents need to work. Furthermore it allows them to identify potential interactions that the medications might have, as well as choose the best ‘delivery system’ for the medication – i.e. whether it is better used as a tablet or as an inhaler for example.