6. June 2023

Twenty-five selected talents received awards and scholarships in the Brno PhD Talent competition. Viktória Parobková from the Advanced Instrumentation and Methods for Material Characterization research group at CEITEC BUT was also among the winners. In her research, she is looking into the possibility of detecting microplastics in the human body using various methods. In the future, she hopes that knowledge about the presence of microplastics in the human body could help change attitudes towards the use of plastics in everyday life.

Award-winning researcher Viktória Parobková's work focuses on microplastics. Specifically, she is interested in whether microplastics are present in the human body and what methods can be used to reliably detect them. "The idea came from Dr. Urik from the Department of Pediatric ENT of the University Hospital Brno. He had read an article about microplastics being found in the placenta and started thinking about whether microparticles could be detected in his field. He had the idea of studying baby tonsils. He approached the CT Lab and the laboratory of Pavel Pořízka, who is involved in laser spectroscopy. Initially, he wanted to take a sample of the tonsils and use CT to detect individual particles," says Viktória Parobková.

However, it soon became clear that the research would be a little more complicated than first thought. "We ran into a number of problems regarding both contrast and particle size," says Parobková. Because human tonsils are quite large, the researchers had trouble finding small particles in such a volume. "Another problem was that if one detects something, it is difficult to verify that it is just microplastics," adds the young scientist.


So far, they have not found microplastics in almonds. This could be because of the small sample size

That is why the researchers thought of combining CT with spectroscopy, which detects the chemical origin of the particles. "The overall concept of the project and the procedure have changed. First, we would like to examine the handles on the CT scan to see if they contain any potential particles and if any contrast changes are visible. Then we would use spectroscopy, which involves dissolving the tissue, filtering the solution and capturing any impurities and particles," Parobkova says, describing the procedure to help them determine if there are indeed any particles in the tonsils and if they are indeed microplastics.

The researchers have already tested the procedure. "We took the particles on a filter and examined them using spectroscopy. We mainly looked at Raman spectroscopy and based on this analysis we were also able to determine what kind of polymer it is. We also tried LIBS," says Viktória Parobková, adding one crucial point: "All the particles we were able to measure on the filter paper were artificially added to almonds. Fortunately, so far we have not been able to detect microplastics in the tonsils of patients." He points out, however, that so far they have only had a very small sample. "We have examined about five tonsils. So we would be rather lucky if we found microplastics in them," she thinks.


Scientists are also interested in other tissues

Currently, Viktória Parobková is working on optimizing the whole procedure and also on determining the limits of the method. "For example, how big microplastic particles we can still find. We want to make sure that if we apply this protocol to the tissue in which the particles are located, we can detect them. And not only locate them, but ideally determine what type of polymers they are," he explains.

They would also like to include other tissue types in the research. For example, from the intestines. "We originally chose almonds because we wanted to know if microplastics are already being trapped when we eat or breathe. These are the two ways microplastics usually enter the human body. And since the tonsils serve as a kind of microfilter in the body, we wondered if this was also the case here," explains Parobková. But it seems that the time it takes for the particles to pass through the throat may be too short to capture them. "That's also why we want to focus on other tissues," she adds. What is unique about their method is the combination of spectroscopic and tomographic techniques. "Usually only spectroscopy is used for this type of research. That is, they determine the dissolution and filtration process. But adding tomography can give us new findings because, for example, we can see if the particles tend to cluster somewhere and so on," the award-winning scientist points out.

Viktória Parobková now plans to test and refine her methods in a project that starts in May. "We have a large project in conjunction with Slovenia and Austria, where we will be looking at the detection of microplastics in the body of fish. We will also be combining tomographic and spectroscopic techniques to investigate how best to identify microplastics," she confirms, adding that prospectively she would like to follow up her work with a project mapping the specific effects of microplastics in the human body.


She did not originally enter the competition. In the end, she was awarded

The fact that her research has been recognised in the prestigious Brno PhD Talent Award competition is a great surprise. "I originally finished below the line and my project was not even selected for the main competition. But the day before the competition started, I got a call that someone would not be participating and whether I would be interested," says the PhD student, adding that she then prepared her presentation at the last minute. In addition to the prize, she received a scholarship as part of the competition, which should support her in her promising scientific career.


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