Alzheimer's and Parkinson's: Handheld device may help spot markers

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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A wireless device developed by scientists might help spot markers of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Finding biomarkers of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease that can be detected via bodily fluids such as saliva, urine, and blood could help researchers identify and develop new drugs and treatments.
  • A group of researchers last year developed a wireless device that can detect a tiny number of molecules, specifically for SARS-CoV-2 strains.
  • Now, they have shown their device can be adapted to detect molecules linked to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

A team of researchers based at the University of California, San Diego, who developed a wireless, handheld device to detect specific biomolecules, have now shown their device can detect molecules associated with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The device was originally developed to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It works using aptamers, or short strands of DNA or RNA that bind only to specific molecules. When binding takes place on the single-atom-thick graphene layer in the machine, electrical energy is able to flow, which creates a positive reading confirming the molecule has been detected.

This previous study showed their device was capable of detecting specific strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, when only a very small number of viruses were present.

In the most recent research by this team, researchers have shown that their device is capable of detecting different forms of beta-amyloid and tau, peptides that characterize Alzheimer’s disease, and α-synuclein—a peptide found in higher levels in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.

They used samples taken from the autopsied brains of deceased patients to test the device’s ability to detect these molecules.

Their findings were published in Biophysics and Computational Biology.

There is still research to be done into the best type of biomarkers to detect Alzheimer’s disease in different types of body fluid, said Dr. Thomas K Karikari, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, who researches biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease and was not involved in the research.

There are also challenges associated with carrying out standardized pathology tests on amyloid and tau, to get consistent enough results that false positives and negatives are avoided.

Amyloid is difficult to isolate and work with as it is so sticky in its nature. The blood-brain barrier also means that most of the changes seen in the brain are not necessarily reflected in blood concentrations or those concentrations seen in different tissues outside of the brain. In other words, how can you tell if these biomarkers have come from the brain, and not somewhere else in the body?

Dr. Karikari told MNT that his own research had looked at the phosphorylation patterns on Alzheimer’s specific tau-peptides to determine which specific molecules could be determined to have come from the brain and present in different concentrations in Alzheimer’s patients compared to a non-disease population.

Previous research of his had shown that tau binding is particularly strong around the salivary gland, and “[We] showed at that time that there was no difference for saliva between the diagnostic group. So we actually ended that at that point,” said Dr. Karikari, as it meant tau in saliva was not a good biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease as it would not necessarily be from the brain.

Now, however, he said that work has been done to determine the phosphorylation patterns on tau that characterize Alzheimer’s disease, “so hopefully we can go back and be able to characterize the tau from the saliva much better.”

Dr. Karikari said less research had been done on urine, and there were particular challenges associated with collecting urine from incontinent elderly patients.

The authors of the paper say they plan on applying for FDA approval for the device in the next five or six months with a goal to have the device on the market in a year.

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