Screening Tears, Not Blood, For Vitamin Deficiencies Interview with:

Adrienne R. Minerick, Ph.D. Associate Dean for Research & Innovation, College of Engineering Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Development Professor, Chemical Engineering Michigan Technological University Houghton, MI 49931

Dr. Adrienne Minerick

Adrienne R. Minerick, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research & Innovation, College of Engineering
Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Development
Professor, Chemical Engineering
Michigan Technological University
Houghton, MI 49931 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: With seed funding from the Gerber Foundation, we asked two scientific questions.
1. Are vitamins present in tears and could we reliably detect them?
2. Do the vitamin levels in tears correlate with the vitamin levels in blood?

This research, conducted by recent PhD graduate Maryam Khaksari, illustrated that vitamins are present in tears. The majority of the essential vitamins are water soluble, which were present in tears in higher concentration than fat soluble vitamins. Given that tears are 98% water, this result wasn’t surprising. This study developed up protocols to reliably detect both water and fat soluble vitamins. The limits of detection and limits of quantification did vary by vitamin, so there is ample room to improve this technique.
The second question was answered by a small clinical trial with UP Health: Portage Hospital’s Pediatric Clinic. During the 4-month well-baby check-up, willing parents and their infant each donated both a blood sample and a tear sample. Vitamin concentrations were determined in the samples and correlations quantified. Fat soluble vitamin K showed the strongest concentration correlation between blood and tears. The strength of additional vitamin correlations were noted. These early-stage results demonstrate that vitamin screening from a single drop of tears (35uL or microliters) is feasible – with additional refinement. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The implications are that vitamins are present in tears and – when quantification of those low vitamin concentrations was reliable – the levels in tears correlated with vitamin levels in blood.

Our team developed protocols to simultaneously detect most of the water soluble vitamins and fat soluble vitamins in a single 30 minute run. This protocol was demonstrated on human samples and streamlines processing times and reduced resource consumption. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Tears are much less invasive to collect than blood samples. This research opens the door to explore physiological screening with reduced biosafety risk.
The largest issue is that most vitamins (there are 13 essential) require a separate blood test which makes efficient screening cumbersome, laborious, and costly. It’s protocol for each separate test to have sufficient sample available to repeat the test if necessary, so larger volumes of sample are required. The next challenge is that a majority of blood testing is now outsourced to independent medical labs so the time delay between taking the sample and obtaining the results can be days. In rural locations with sub-optimal infrastructure, this can be longer. Once results are known, it traditionally requires nurse or physician follow up. This process is inefficient.

As a result, medical practice doesn’t regularly rely upon quantitatively measuring vitamin levels, it instead relies upon recognizing symptoms. Symptoms are usually signs of damaged tissues (simple as nail discoloration, as complicated as nerve function). For the tissues to show signs of damage, the vitamin deficiency had to persist for long stretches of time.

Analytical tests that can screen levels in a simple, inexpensive manner means that it will be possible to identify infants and children at risk for developmental damage prior to any permanent tissue damage. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: No disclosures. The authors declare no conflict of interest (aside from some of us having our own children and wanting to see improved healthcare techniques). Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Maryam Khaksari, Lynn R. Mazzoleni, Chunhai Ruan, Robert T. Kennedy, Adrienne R. Minerick. Determination of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins in tears and blood serum of infants and parents by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. Experimental Eye Research, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.exer.2016.12.007

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

More Medical Research Interviews on

[wysija_form id=”5″]

Last Updated on January 17, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD