(CN) — Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have created a noninvasive device to test for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and send the results to a laptop or smartphone.
The new research, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details how this new device would make it easier and less invasive to detect certain neurological diseases.
“This portable diagnostic system would allow testing at home and at point of care, like clinics and nursing homes, for neurodegenerative diseases globally,” said Ratnesh Lal, who helped create the device and is a professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
According to the research, diseases like Parkinson’s are on the rise. An estimated 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2060.
Now, patients must undergo an invasive spinal tap and imaging test to get an early diagnosis. Symptomatic people or those who lack access to medical facilities remain difficult to test.
Such hurdles can make it hard for patients to get an early diagnosis, which Mayo Clinic researchers say is very beneficial in helping a patient live with a disease like Alzheimer’s, which has no known cure.
Lal wanted to find a way to test for disease biomarkers noninvasively, using a patient’s saliva or urine. He also wanted to rely on electrical detection, because it is easier to implement and more accurate than chemical detection methods.
So Lal and a team of researchers adapted a device they had developed during the Covid-19 pandemic to detect certain biomarkers for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with the same accuracy as current methods.
The device consists of a chip with a transistor known as a “field effect transistor,” alongside a set of electrodes and a battery that can detect the specific biomarkers researchers wanted to find.
Using brain-derived protein test samples from deceased Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, they found that their biosensor could work with extremely small protein samples, even as small as a few microliters.
Also, the device worked even if the sample contained different types of bodily proteins.
The next steps include researchers testing blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid before eventually moving on to testing saliva and urine.
Further testing would take place in hospitals and nursing homes. Researchers have plans to apply for FDA approval within the next five months, with hopes that the device can be on the market in a year.
“I am trying to improve quality of life and save lives,” Lal said.
Lal is the chairman of a biotech startup called Ampera Life, which has licensed the technology but did not provide financial support for the research.
Funding came from the National Institutes of Health, UC San Diego and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Researchers used facilities that are part of the National Science Institute-funded UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.
Researchers from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shahong Wei, University of Texas Medical Branch and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign also contributed to the research.
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