The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease could soon be predicted 20 years before its debilitating symptoms manifest — all via a quick and simple blood test.
This is the promise of Australian researchers, who combined AI with nanotechnology to analyze proteins in blood for tell-tale “biomarkers” of the disorder.
The heart of their technology is an ultra-thin silicon chip containing “nanopores” — tiny holes that allow the proteins to be studied one at a time.
A small amount of blood is placed on the chip, which is then inserted into a phone-sized device to undertake the analysis.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than six million Americans alone. While there is no cure, advanced warning of the disease has the potential to improve health outcomes for patients.
The study was undertaken by physicist Professor Patrick Kluth and his colleagues at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Kluth said: “Currently, Alzheimer’s is mostly diagnosed based on evidence of mental deterioration, by which stage the disease has already seriously damaged the brain.
“Early detection, which is vital for effective treatment, normally involves invasive and expensive hospital procedures such as lumbar puncture, which can be physically and mentally taxing for patients.
“Our technique, on the other hand, requires only a small blood sample — and patients could receive their results in near real-time.
“The quick and simple test could be done by GPs and other clinicians, which would eliminate the need for a hospital visit and prove especially convenient for people living in regional and remote areas.”
Paper first author Shankar Dutt said that having early warning of susceptibility to Alzheimer’s could have significant benefits.
He explained: “If that person can find out their risk level that far in advance, then it gives them plenty of time to start making positive lifestyle changes and adopt medication strategies that may help slow down the progression of the disease.”
According to the team, finding protein biomarkers of early neurodegeneration is far from an easy task — and more akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.
Dutt said: “Blood is a complex fluid that contains more than 10,000 different biomolecules.”
However, he added, “by employing advanced filtration techniques and harnessing our nanopore platform, combined with our intelligent machine learning algorithms, we may be able to identify even the most elusive proteins.”
According to the team, the new screening technique could be made available clinically within the next five years.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Small Methods.
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