Authors: David Fleming, Samantha Crook, Colby Evans, Michael Nader, Manuel Atia, Jason Hicks, Ellen Sweeney, Christopher McFarlane, Jong Sung Kim, Erin Keltie, Anil Adisesh
Abstract: Zinc is an essential trace element in humans. Zinc deficiency can result in a range of serious medical conditions which include effects on growth and development, the immune system, the central nervous system, and the gastrointestinal system. Diagnosis of zinc deficiency is often precluded by the lack of a noninvasive and reliable biomarker. Zinc concentration in nail is considered an emerging biomarker of zinc status in humans. Whether zinc in nail accurately reflects zinc status is beyond the scope of the current study, but is an important research question. The development of a portable method to quickly assess zinc concentration from a single nail clipping could be a useful advance. In this study, single toenail clippings from 60 individuals living in Atlantic Canada were measured for zinc using a portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technique. These samples were obtained from the Atlantic PATH cohort, part of the largest chronic disease study ever performed in Canada. Each toenail clipping was measured using three 300 s trials with a mono-energetic portable XRF system. Results were then assessed using two different approaches to the XRF analysis: (1) factory-calibrated zinc concentrations were output from each trial, and (2) energy spectra were analyzed for the characteristic X-rays resulting from zinc. Following the measurement of zinc using the non-destructive portable XRF method, the same clippings were measured for zinc concentration using the “gold standard” technique of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). A linear equation of best fit was determined for the relationship between average XRF output zinc concentration and ICP-MS zinc concentration, with a correlation coefficient r = 0.60. Similarly, a linear equation of best fit was found for the relationship between a normalized XRF energy spectrum zinc signal and ICP-MS zinc concentration, with a correlation coefficient r = 0.68. Individual ICP-MS zinc concentrations ranged from 32 μg/g to 140 μg/g, with a population average of 85 μg/g. The results of this study indicate that portable XRF is a sensitive method for the measurement of zinc in a single nail clipping, and provides a reasonable estimation of zinc concentration. Further method development is required before portable XRF be considered a routine alternative to ICP-MS for the assessment of zinc in nail clippings.