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Handheld Electrical Device Accurately Detects Early Alzheimer's & Parkinson’s Disease

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Handheld Electrical Device Accurately Detects Early Alzheimer's & Parkinson’s Disease about undefined

Scientists are racing to find a highly accurate test for pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. That’s right, a detection test for Alzheimer’s disease that works long before your memory fades and cognitive function stumbles.

How’s it going? Surprisingly well. Researchers are investigating a number of options.

Primarily they’re focused on studying chemical changes that show up in the blood long before symptoms do. These chemical changes are the early-detection markers that can be picked up by blood tests.

Researchers are also investigating a method that detects how light moves through and bounces off key brain regions. And finally, subtle changes in speech detected by AI is also showing tremendous promise in identifying Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages. We’ve written about these and other early detection methods in previous articles.

Well, now there’s a new way to detect the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease to add to the growing list. What’s more, it can also be used to detect Parkinson’s disease. In fact, this new diagnostic test may be the most accurate and practical test yet because it’s non-invasive and its success is all achieved through wireless technology that you could use at home. And we’ve got to say, the way it works is pretty amazing.

A Simple Non-Invasive At-Home Test

It’s taken three decades of expertise, as well as collaboration with researchers globally for Ratnesh Lal, a bioengineering, mechanical engineering, and materials science professor at the UC San Diego to come up with a unique device that detects the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The device relies on electrical detection, which Professor Lal and colleagues say is easier to implement and more accurate than looking for chemical changes that show up in the blood or urine. The aim of Professor Lal was to detect the two proteins commonly linked to Alzheimer’s disease- amyloid beta and tau – as well as alpha synuclein, a pathogenic hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. What’s more, Professor Lal wants to identify these compounds non-invasively, specifically from saliva and urine.

He also wanted to build a device that could wirelessly transmit the test results to a laptop or smartphone so they can be easily accessed by the patient’s family and physicians. Interestingly, the COVID pandemic helped him achieve his vision.

More Accurate Than Antigen Tests

Since the home-based rapid antigen tests used at the time of the pandemic lacked precision, he and his colleagues developed a device to detect the spike and nucleoprotein proteins in the live SARS-CoV-2 virus. The device reliably detected SARS-CoV-2 antigens and viral particles. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2022.

They then adapted the device for neurological purposes. It consists of a chip with a high sensitivity transistor made of a graphene layer that’s a single atom thick. A typical atom is between 0.1 and 0.5 nanometers in diameter. To give you an idea, this is about a million times smaller than the thickest human hair!

The device also contains three electrodes for electric current flow, and a gate electrode to control the amount of current flow. Connected to the gate electrode is a single DNA strand which serves as a probe that specifically binds to either amyloid beta, tau, or synuclein proteins. The binding of these amyloids with their specific DNA strand probe changes the amount of current flow which is the signal used to detect specific protein biomarkers, like amyloids.

The research team tested the device with brain-derived amyloid proteins from patients who died from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease with impressive results.

A Portable Diagnostic System

Their findings, published in the journal PNAS in November 2023 showed the biosensors could detect the specific biomarkers for both conditions with great accuracy, on par with existing state of the art methods. Perhaps even more exciting, the device also works at extremely low concentrations, meaning it needs small quantities for samples–down to just a few microliters.

Professor Lal explained, saying, “This portable diagnostic system would allow testing at-home and at point of care, like clinics and nursing homes, for neurodegenerative diseases globally.”

Next steps include testing blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid with the device, then finally saliva and urine samples. These tests will take place in hospital settings and nursing homes.

Researchers hope to obtain FDA approval for the device within the next six months and then to have it on the market six months after that. We don’t know about you, but we’re looking forward to trying it. We’ll let you know more as information becomes available.

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