The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lethal metals in body hair test
- Indo-Danish tie-up brings toxic-detector tool

When former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal came to city-based gastroenterologist Mahesh Goenka with a seemingly incurable gastritis problem, the doctor was puzzled. That the problem might have arisen from lead poisoning was revealed only after a series of not-too-satisfactory tests and the doctor’s hunch.

But the medical community in Calcutta need not be perplexed diagnosing apparently mysterious ailments due to the presence of toxic elements and heavy metals in the human body. Doctors will soon have access to an advanced diagnostic tool, thanks to an Indo-Danish private-sector tie-up, that will make the equipment available in the city.

The tool is currently available in Denmark and other European countries, but nowhere in India. The new equipment allows doctors to determine the exact amount of toxic element or the equally dangerous portions of heavy metal the patients may have in their body.

The tie-up between Calcutta-based Duckbill Drugs and Hair-Scan, the Danish firm, has enthused doctors, especially gastroenterologists, radiologists, dermatologists and oncologists. “This tool can work wonders in the diagnosis of ailments that seem incurable,” gastroenterologist Goenka said on Tuesday. “The technology has opened up several doors which were till now closed to us,” he added.

The method is remarkable for its simplicity, as much as for its ingenuity. “The equipment involves a clip and a paper-based mechanism that is very simple to operate,” managing director of Duckbill Drugs Swapan Mukherjee told Metro.

“The patient has to donate 500 mg of his/her body hair as a sample, which we will send to Hair-Scan in Denmark. But we promise to return the doctor’s copy of all the analytical tests within a fortnight,” he added.

The elements that will come under the Duckbill-Hair-Scan scanner include arsenic, mercury, lead, molybdenum, boron, chromium, nickel, zinc and selenium — all elements that crop up repeatedly in the to-be-avoided-at-any-cost list of doctors.

Some other elements that can also be detected — besides the precise amount present in the patient’s body — include iron, calcium, phosphorus and copper. The total number would be around 30, Mukherjee said.

Dermatologist Subrata Malakar was equally ecstatic about the equipment. “Previously, only forensic science had the scope to investigate the presence of these elements. Besides, the process was very tedious,” he said. “The new tool will allow us to get to the bottom of many cases that appeared complicated with the set of tools we have been using till now.”

Cardiologist R.N. Banerjee is also confident that the new method will be of great help for patients suffering from respiratory ailments.

“Industrial areas, especially Calcutta, that has a lot of environmental pollution, will benefit greatly from this method,” Banerjee said. “We can now detect the elements in the body at the initial stage,” he added.

According to oncological surgeon Gautam Mukhopadhyay, treatment of cancer in the liver, breast and ovary will gain the most. “All these cancers have a significant relationship with toxic elements and other metals and the diagnosis will certainly help us prevent several untimely deaths,” he said.

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