Aflatoxins are produced as secondary metabolites by Aspergillus flavus and aspergillus parasiticus. The fungi themselves are ubiquitous in nature and will grow and produce aflatoxins on animal and human food commodities under certain conditions of harvesting and storage. Aflatoxins, in particular aflatoxin B1, are potent liver carcinogens(1) and in sufficiently high concentrations will cause acute liver failure and death (aflatoxicosis). The presence of aflatoxins in human and animal food commodities is stringently monitored in the developed world but due to limited technological infrastructure, exposure to aflatoxins may be more prevalent in developing countries(2).
There have been several well documented outbreaks of aflatoxicosis in India and Africa, as recently as 2004 in Kenya, resulting in several hundred deaths.(3)(4) In the US a recent outbreak of aflatoxicosis in dogs was tracked to a contaminated batch of commercial dry dog food in 2005-2006(5). A second potential route of exposure to aflatoxins is the inhalation of dust from contaminated agriculture product at the time of harvesting or processing.(6)
While there are no reports of the actual use of aflatoxins as agents of bioterrorism either in a direct or 'stealth' attack, it is clear that they have been considered in this regard and vigilance and preparedness would be prudent.(7)
After ingestion, aflatoxin B1 is rapidly metabolized by the liver to a variety of byproducts which are then excreted in one form or another. In several epidemiological studies attempting to correlate aflatoxin consumption with the occurrence of liver cancer, it has been shown that the appearance of aflatoxin M1 in urine provides a good indicator of aflatoxin B1 consumption and that about 2% of ingested aflatoxin B1 appears as aflatoxin M1 in urine.(8)
The Helica Biosystems Elisa for Aflatoxin M1 in urine requires no pretreatment of sample other than a sample dilution in distilled water and takes only 1. 5 hours to complete. The standard curve covers the range of 150-4,000 pg/mL (ppt) which is consistent with the range seen in a comprehensive survey of a population potentially at risk for liver cancer.(9) The assay may be useful in monitoring populations vulnerable to chronic or acute aflatoxin intake. The assay has not been approved by the FDA or other regulatory agencies for diagnostic purposes. It is available to interested investigators world-wide for research use only. Please call or e-mail us for more information.
1) Wogan, Gerald N., Aflatoxins as Risk Factors for Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Humans. Cancer Research 1992; 52: 2114s-2118s
2) Williams, Jonathan, et. al., Human Aflatoxicosis in Developing Countries: A review of Toxicology, Exposure, Potential Health Consequences, and Interventions. American Journal Clinical Nutrition 2004; 80: 1106-22
3) Krishnamachari, K.A.V.R, et. al., Hepatatis Due to Aflatoxicosis: An Outbreak in Western India. Lancet 1975; 1061-1063
4) Azziz-Baumgartner, et. al., Case-Control Study of an Acute Aflatoxicosis Outbreak, Kenya 2004. Environmental Health Perspectives 2005; 113: 1779-1783
5) Newman, Shelley Joy, et. al., Aflatoxicosis in nine dogs after exposure to contaminated commercial dog food. J Vet Diagn Invest 2007; 19: 168-175
6) Kussak, Anders, et. al., Determination of Aflatoxins in Dust and Urine by Liquid Chromatography / Electrospray Ionization Tandem Mass Spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 1995; 9: 1234-1237
7) R.A. Zilinskas, Iraq's biological weapons. The past as future? J. Am. Med. Assoc. 1997; 278: 418-424
8) Zhu, Jia-qi, et. al., Correlation of Dietary Aflatoxin B1 Levels with Excretion of Aflatoxin M1 in Human Urine. Cancer Research 1987; 47: 1848-1852
9) Qian, Geng-Sun, et. al., A Follow-up Study of Urinary Markers of Aflatoxin Exposure and Liver Cancer Risk in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 1994; 3: 3-10