Chicken liver may seem like an odd component of a medical procedure, but for thousands of patients over the past generation, the cuisine has been doctor's orders to help diagnose gastrointestinal disorders.
Such may not be the case for much longer, though, based on the results of a recent Medical College of Georgia School of Allied Health Sciences student project.
Micah Grant, Woldeab Medhin and Aaron Scott, juniors in the School of Allied Health Sciences' nuclear medicine technology program, recently were assigned to review and compile scientific data in their field, in which health practitioners use radioactive pharmaceuticals to help assess organ function and diagnose disease. However, the students wanted to go a step further and actually contribute to the literature.
The students knew just what their starting point would be: chicken liver.
"To diagnose digestion-related disorders, a radioactive tracer called Tc99m sulfur colloid is injected into chicken liver and fed to the patient," said Scott, who along with Grant and Medhin is earning MCG certification in nuclear medicine technology via distance-learning at the Gwinnett University Center in Lawrenceville, Ga. The tracer goes to the target organ and can then be imaged with a gamma camera, which takes pictures of the radiation photons emitted by the tracer.
Chicken liver is the delivery agent of choice because its proteins bind with sulfur colloid at a rate of about 92%. The radioactive tracer then provides clear pictures of the organ or organs being assessed.
"The problem is that the 'delicacy' isn't palatable to many people even under the best of circumstances, and many individuals observe cultural practices that make chicken liver an impossible choice," said Mary Anne Owen, program director of nuclear medicine technology. "The option for a palatable, diagnostically accurate vegetarian meal is a much-needed alternative."
Options such as grits and oatmeal have been used, but with much less reliable results, because their binding rate is so much lower, Scott said. He and his classmates rose to the challenge when an Emory University radiologist, Dr. Rahguueer Halkar, asked them to help him find a vegetarian food with a high-enough binding rate to use it as a reliable substitute for chicken liver.
The students knew they were looking for a food high in protein, but other than that, they anticipated a largely trial-and-error search. Incredibly, they found what they were looking for on their first try.
"We thought we might actually have to develop a product, but we found what we were looking for right on the grocery store shelf," Scott said.
The product, Carborite Pancake Mix, made by Carbolite, produces soy-based pancakes when mixed with water.
"We followed the product directions, then mixed it with sulfur colloid and made the pancakes on the griddle," said Scott. "Sulfur colloid is tasteless, odorless and colorless, so it doesn't affect the taste of the pancake."
But does it bind effectively enough to produce clear images of organs? Yes.
"We found that the binding rate is 97% to 98% higher than that of chicken liver," Scott said. He will present the findings at the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Nuclear Medicine annual meeting September 9-12 in Clearwater, Fla. He and his classmates also plan to test their product on volunteer gastric patients, using the pancake for the first test, then repeating the test two days later with chicken liver and comparing the results.
"This better, and better-tasting, alternative could have global implications," Scott said.