Easy being green? Chlorophyll could be used in medical imaging

Photosynthesis isn’t just for plants anymore, researchers say. In a new study published in the journal Advanced Materials, doctors argue that the green pigment in chlorophyll could help physicians peek inside human digestive tracts with certain kinds of imaging procedures.

So far, the method has only been tested on mice, but researchers hypothesize the principle should scale up.

People would drink a special mixture of green nanoparticles called pheophytin. The compound is just chlorophyll with the magnesium removed. Pheophytin reacts with sunlight during photosynthesis, so it could also react with other kinds of light during imaging procedures.

During PET scans, fluorescence imaging and photoacoustic imaging, the pheopytin could help light up digestive tracts and see their inner workings (and potential problems) more clearly.