Aarhus University Seal

If it exists, we can measure it

At the Department of Forensic Medicine, the Bioanalytical Unit is a core facility that has specialised in delivering customised analyses of virtually anything – as long as it is something that was once alive.

There are very few analysis that the Bioanalytical Unit at the Department of Forensic Medicine cannot accommodate. From blood samples that need to be screened for illegal drugs or drug poisoning, to special analysis that need to be developed and included in large and complex projects.

One example of the later is the collaboration with Thomas Vorup-Jensen, who is professor at the Department of Biomedicine. In his research project on the PKU metabolic disorder, there arose a need for precise measurements of the blood concentration in samples. Responsibility for the analysis was assigned to the Bioanalytical Unit and they developed a method for the precise measurements which were needed, explains Thomas Vorup-Jensen.

"In a project dealing with additives in food products for people who are born without the ability to convert amino acids in the body, the reliability of the method and confidence in the samples are of great importance. It was therefore natural for us to turn to those who are best with these types of samples, and even at a reasonable price," says Thomas Vorup-Jensen. In his assessment, it would not be realistic to create a similar set-up for analysis in his own laboratory, even though it is a facility he will need to make use of several times.

"Developing this ourselves would be far too extensive and requires specialist competences that we cannot maintain. So I am very content with outsourcing this part of the research," says Thomas Vorup-Jensen

Builds on public sector consultancy

The Bioanalytical Unit's core facility builds on the public sector consultancy which is already the department’s primary function, and has the Danish police force as its main customer. The Bioanalytical Unit is where the police receive information about poisons, drugs or narcotics – and if these are involved, in what quantities – that may have caused poisoning or a fatality. These are the competences which forensic chemistry has developed and refined, so they are obviously well-suited for use in research projects such as Thomas Vorup-Jensen’s at the Department of Biomedicine.

"Our strength is our knowledge and the equipment we have to carry out analyses that are not generally in demand in the healthcare sector or in connection with research projects," says Mogens Johannsen, who is professor and head of the Bioanalytical Unit.

A few years ago, the Department of Forensic Medicine chose to market their analysis and competences under the auspices of the Bioanalytical Unit more actively. Mogens Johannsen does not doubt that most research groups would find collaboration with the unit advantageous.

"It would be possible to considerably strengthen a great many projects if there was access to detailed knowledge of the individual substances, and that is what we are able to provide them with. Initially, we are looking for research groups at the universities and preferably projects that also have relevance for the Department of Forensic Medicine. But we would also like to enter into other projects, preferably at an early stage and during the planning phase, so that we have time to apply for funding for the development of what are often very demanding analysis," says Mogens Johannsen.

The alternative is for the unit to offer itself as a supplier of analysis which we already have on the shelf in the laboratory.

"We create a service based on strong knowledge that we have to maintain and develop. We are not interested in being the biggest in our field, but the best," says Mogens Johannsen.

Facts about the Bioanalytical Unit:

The Bioanalytical Unit is a core facility that can develop analyses of virtually all small molecules such as drugs and metabolites in biological samples. The analyses can be in the form of precise determinations of individual substances or more general studies of the human metabolism (metabolomics).

The unit conducts its own research within the area, related to public sector consultancy such as toxicology/forensic chemistry and also the human metabolism and its relation to biological aging.

Bioanalysis uncovered medicine poisoning

The Bioanalytical Unit had a crucial role in solving a medical riddle in a case of poisoning in an intensive care ward at Aarhus University Hospital. The patient was hospitalised after an overdose of amlodipine, which is a medicine for high blood pressure. Despite intensive medical treatment, the patient did not improve, and the Bioanalytical Unit was asked to monitor the amlodipine level plasma. On the basis of the successive measurements of the levels, their metabolites and also the medical treatment, it was revealed that the medical treatment was actually directly counterproductive. Instead of counteracting the poisoning, it was maintaining it at a life-threateningly high level. Analyses from the Bioanalytical Unit contributed to the medicine being changes. The patient subsequently recovered and was discharged after treatment.

Method to find neurotransmitters in the brains of mice

The method for determining amino acids which the Bioanalytical Unit developed in a research project at the Department of Biomedicine, led to a new collaboration with researchers from the Department of Biomedicine, Rigshospitalet and Arla. Together they developed a method to cover the derived metabolites and neurotransmitters. The goal was to follow the changes in these over time and locally in the individual parts of the brains of the mice as a result of a specially developed diet. The dissection of the brains into the individual parts gave very small sample volumes – as little as 1-2 mg. Nevertheless, the unit succeeded in developing a method that can precisely depict the levels of the individual substances and provide an overall picture of the metabolism in the individual parts of the brain.


Professor Mogens Johannsen
Aarhus University, Department of Forensic Medicine
Mail: mj@forens.au.dk
Tel.: 87 16 83 32