Scientists at the University of Illinois say the sensors are capable of detecting both natural and human-made substances that can alter estrogenic signaling in the body.
"There are so many estrogenic compounds in our environment, and some of them could be a danger to health," chemical and biomolecular engineering Professor Huimin Zhao, who led the research, said in a UI release Thursday.
While estrogen occurs naturally in the body, a variety of plants, pharmaceuticals, microbial byproducts and industrial chemicals -- such as bisphenol A, or BPA, in plastics-- are also known to activate or block the activation of estrogen receptors in human cells.
"We are concerned about estrogenic compounds because they interact with the estrogen receptor, which plays an important role in many important biological processes, like reproduction, bone growth, cell differentiation and metabolism," Zhao said.
With the new sensors, researchers and clinicians can quickly and efficiently determine whether a food, drug or chemical substance interacts with estrogen receptors in human cells, Zhao said.
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