A smart new sensor can detect Alzheimer’s

Scientists from Toyohashi University of Technology and the National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan have developed a new way of testing for diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes which could lead to earlier diagnosis.

It consists of a semiconductor image sensor which can detect disease markers in a tiny drop of blood or urine. Professor Kazuaki Sawada, Dr Takigawa and their colleagues have successfully used it to spot amiloid beta-peptide, which is indicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is not usually diagnosed until symptoms are present, by which time it’s too late for intervention. Finding it more quickly means the possibility for trials into treatments that could stop or slow the disease.

Diseases cause specific proteins (antigens) to appear in the blood. By checking the reaction of blood molecules against markers that capture those proteins (antibodies), scientists can see whether a disease is present. However, this is traditionally a complex and lengthy procedure, due to the need for a large sample which is analysed by fluorescent probes. The new sensor does away with the need for fluorescence and is able to measure tiny changes in the electricity exchanged during an antigen-antibody reaction. It’s not only quicker than standard systems, but because of its small size and ease of use, cheaper too.

It should work for any disease for which blood markers of disease have already been identified, meaning it has the potential to spot everything from cancer to Parkinson’s in the future.

Diane Shipley