It's no secret that fighting nail fungus is difficult. Tightly linked nail proteins are intended to keep germs out, but if an infection manages to take hold, it can be the medicine that's unable to get in.
As a result, improving treatment formulas is a challenge, because it's hard to measure how much and how deeply medicine is able to absorb into the nail. But a group of scientists, led by pharmaceutical chemist Richard Guy at the University of Exeter in England, is set on changing that. Using a technique called "stimulated Raman scattering microscopy," the researchers are able to make three-dimensional chemical maps of human nail clippings, and are literally able to watch chemicals move through the nail.
The process uses pulsing lasers to make the chemical molecules in the nail "vibrate," and by tracking each chemical's unique vibrations, scientists can follow it as it moves -- in real time!
Here's a description of the process from ScienceNews.org:
The researchers tested three liquids commonly found in pharmaceuticals — heavy water (D₂O), dimethyl sulfoxide, and propylene glycol. All three substances contained a heavy form of hydrogen, which allowed the scientists to clearly distinguish the chemicals’ vibrations from vibrations in the nail itself. Water penetrates fingernails quickly and deeply, the scientists report. In fact, water moved over 10 times faster than the other two chemicals and flowed twice as far.
Water’s small molecular size allows it to sneak through gaps in the nail’s protein network, Guy says. All three liquids moved more quickly across the nail as greater amounts were absorbed. Guy believes the chemicals loosened the nail’s protein network while sliding through.
So what does it all mean? Theoretically, this kind of imaging should help researchers design fungus treatments that are able to penetrate more deeply into the nail. Even though something like that may be a ways off yet, it's exciting to catch a glimpse of some cutting edge nail fungus research!
Original study: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/25/7725