Scientists at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow are developing a new technique that makes it possible to detect Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in its earliest stages by focusing on finding the clusters of the peptide associated with the disease as they begin to gather. The Strathclyde researchers discovered if you use the ratio of detected fluorescence signals from the peptide as they gather, patients could be screened far earlier and without the use of invasive needles or wires.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is irreversible and terminal, with less than 3% of individuals living beyond 14 years post-diagnosis. By the year 2050, it is thought that likely 1 in 85 people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so if there could be earlier diagnosis, there could be more preventative measures taken and possibly delaying or reversing the effects. Currently, the disease is diagnosed with behavioral assessments and cognitive performance tests, along with brain scans (as seen above).
Dr. Olaf Rolinski of the University’s Department of Physics, who led the research, explained their early diagnosis technique as: “When irradiated with light, the intrinsic fluorescence given off by the peptide is like a communication from a spy. We took samples of the peptide and discovered that, where they were in the type of aggregation linked to Alzheimer’s, they produced fluorescence light signals which could be picked up with our technique much earlier than in more conventional experiments, such as those that use the addition of a dye.”
Although little is known about how or why these peptides gather in the brain as they do, Dr. Rolinski’s research provides hope for treatment. “This approach could help us understand better the role of these peptides in the onset of Alzheimer’s and discover ways in which the disease could be stopped in its tracks early on. We now want to take the research further so that it can be used in the development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Rolinski. We now have a technique to detect the disease early, next is to find a cure.
Steps to that possible cure are getting closer, as researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute recently discovered the exact, little-studied peptide that is the most abundant in Alzheimer’s patients with the greatest neurotoxicity of all the peptides and highest propensity to cluster. Along with being more toxic, the previously overlooked amyloid-beta peptide 43 also appears to increase with age, which is consistent with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and could mean that this particular peptide is the best biomarker for early AD diagnosis.