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Analyses of Human Biological Materials

The determination of elements in body fluids and other human biological material can be used as a diagnostic tool in various disorders, for investigation of exposure, and to check administration of metal-based pharmaceuticals.

When studying human exposure to toxic elements in the environment, analysis of human biological material - so-called biological monitoring - provides a complement to analysis of air, water and other environmental samples. An advantage of biological monitoring is that the results reflect uptake of the substance by the organism, which varies between individuals as well as over time in a given individual.

Sample Types

The most common sample types used in element analyses are whole blood, serum/plasma and urine. The choice of sample type depends e.g. on how a specific element is metabolised by the organism. Concentration of elements in plasma are of special interest since this fraction is readily available for tissue uptake. However, certain elements, especially lead and cadmium, bind strongly to red blood cells. The concentration of elements in urine are generally corrected for dilution by normalisation to creatinine. ALS Europe provides accredited analyses of whole blood, serum, plasma, urine, hair and nails.

Natural Levels

The study of trace elements in human biological material has long been subject to technical limitations. Difficulties are associated with low concentrations, complex sample matrices and small available sample volumes. The technical development of analytical instruments with greater sensitivity and selectivity in combination with improved sample handling has nevertheless enabled determination of a growing number of elements down to naturally occurring levels. A compilation of results from research at the ALS Luleå laboratory can be found here.

Several Elements Simultaneously

The use of multi-element techniques for simultaneous analysis of several elements allows a large amount of analytical information to be obtained rapidly from small sample volumes. This facilitates e.g. the study of interactions between different elements. Multi-element analysis also permits unprejudiced screening for identification of elements related to non-specific symptoms of deficiency or poisoning.


For more information on clinical applications, please click here.