Simple tasks are now uphill struggles, social situations aren’t fun, and the house keys are missing again. By the time these symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to take a toll on a patient’s quality of life, the damage is done — there is already severe neurodegeneration.
Scientists at Washington State University (WSU) have revealed a diagnostic innovation for Alzheimer’s that is 10 times more powerful than existing technologies, which could make it possible for doctors to detect the onset of the disease much earlier.
Existing diagnostic methods rely heavily on brain imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, and CT scans. Here, physicians are looking for structural changes in the neuroanatomy, particularly shrinkage in the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain. Another (more painful) option is to take a sample of spinal fluid and analyze it for the presence of beta-amyloid biomarkers.
The team at WSU has developed a single-atom nanozyme: a synthetic enzyme that detects the presence of Alzheimer’s biomarkers with unprecedented sensitivity. These nanostructures, composed of carbon nanotubes coated with iron atoms, can detect trace amounts of beta-amyloid proteins, at levels 10 times lower than if conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) were used. With this level of sensitivity, Alzheimer’s biomarkers could be picked up in blood samples from patients without the need for spinal taps.
“The nanozyme based on a single-atom catalyst that we created has a similar structure as a natural enzyme with remarkable enzyme-like activity and paved the way for detecting the Alzheimer’s Disease biomarker,” said Professor Dan (Annie) Du from WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering who led the study. These novel molecules are also superior to ELISAs that use naturally-derived enzymes in that they are more cost-effective and have a much longer shelf life.
The team plans to continue the study by validating the newly-developed assay using blood samples from Alzheimer’s patients and healthy controls.
“This shows great potential for the early-stage diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease,” commented Du.