Scientists develop new test for early detection of Alzheimer’s

Lancaster: Scientists at Lancaster University have developed a new technique, utilising one of the latest advances in sub-atomic technology, which could potentially allow the early diagnosis of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease through a simple test for certain proteins in body fluids.

At present, by the time these diseases are diagnosed, using clinical criteria, much damage to the brain has already occurred. Future, more advanced drug treatments are likely to be most effective if given as early as possible during the course of these diseases.

The breakthrough technique also allows scientists to monitor the effectiveness of drugs and other inhibitors on the aggregation of key proteins that accumulate in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

The process involves monitoring protein aggregation in the blood and so is non-invasive. It can generate results rapidly, so potentially speeding up the drug discovery process. The research was partly funded by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Central to the success of the breakthrough was the latest protein measurement equipment from Farfield Scientific, Crewe, UK. This equipment utilises a laser-based technology known as dual polarisation interferometry to detect and study both the structure and aggregation of disease-related proteins.

The new technique, based on the use of Farfield equipment, allows the precise measurement in vitro of the protein interactions that lead to aggregation, in real time. The technique can detect these interactions at a very early stage, and it is at this early stage of aggregation that these proteins are thought to be toxic to brain cells, so leading to the onset of disease.

It also possible that the detection of early-stage protein aggregates in body fluids could lead to advances in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other diseases. The Farfield equipment is capable of recording changes smaller than 0.1 angstroms (one hundredth of a nanometre) – considerably smaller than the size of the molecule’s constituent atoms.

Studying changes in the structure of biologically important molecules in real time delivers revealing insights into mechanisms involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer and heart disease. Proteins are very large complex molecules that can fold into a variety of different shapes or conformations. This 3D shape is extremely important and can radically affect the protein’s properties. Misfolded proteins are also the source of prion-based diseases – the suspected infective agent for diseases such as BSE in cows and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. How these ‘rogue’ proteins behave at a molecular level is a key to understanding the mechanisms of these diseases. This dual polarisation interferometry technique behind the breakthrough
uses the principle of optical interference, where two light sources are made to interact (or interfere) with each other to produce a ‘fringe’ pattern demonstrating the wave-like nature of light. The Farfield system employs two waveguides with a laser light source.

A waveguide is an optical structure that guides light. The changes in the behaviour of light passing through the device enable parameters such as the size, density and mass of molecules attached to the sample surface to be determined extremely accurately.

“The technique can be used to gain a better understanding of many diseases
at a molecular level”, says Professor David Allsop of Lancaster University.
‘This is done by measuring protein structures as they interact with each other, with other proteins or with candidate drug molecules.

The Farfield technology does offer a real advantage over other techniques because of its ability to measure protein changes and molecular interactions very precisely and accurately, in real time. This could lead to some major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of human disease’.

Dr Simon Carrington, Marketing Director of Farfield Group sees even greater potential for the technology adding, “There is a real chance that this technology will quickly lead to major advances in our ability to diagnoseand treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, there is now no reason why this technology should not play a significant role in scientific research into many other medical areas, such as CJD, where the prospects of early diagnosis have been elusive.

About Farfield Group Farfield Group Limited is an innovator and global supplier of newanalytical technologies and instruments that address the emerging and evolving measurement demands of the Biophysics, Nanotechnology and Telecommunications communities, which combined represent the most demanding measurement challenges facing research over the next decade.