An interdisciplinary team comprised of scientists and engineers at Northwestern University has developed a new non-invasive technique for the detection of Alzheimer's in animals. The team used MRI to detect traces of the disease at very early stages.
The MRI probe which the scientists developed is able to link the magnetic nanostructure with antibodies that locate the amyloid beta toxins in the brain. The toxins are responsible for Alzheimer's and the proteins can be identified as darker areas on an MRI scan of the brain. Being able to identify molecular toxins in animals may allow researchers to develop methods to detect early signs by rendering the toxins incapable of causing more damage. Although this wasn't the intended area of study, the researchers will hopefully be able to design treatment plans and ways to eliminate toxins while improving patient health.
These findings are a diversion from the conventional methods by identifying toxin amyloid oligomers rather than plaques, known for developing later in cases of Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, the oligomers are acknowledged as the culprit for the onset of the disease and related memory loss.
Being able to identify oligomers is a huge breakthrough, as they are often present for anywhere up to 10 years in the brain before the plaques they form can be detected. Detecting amyloid beta oligomers is critical for two main reasons: firstly the oligomers are toxins responsible for damaging neurons, and secondly, oligomers are the earliest precursor for Alzheimer's.
Researchers used mice with Alzheimer's and delivered the probe intranasally to the animals with the disease and a control group without it. In those with Alzheimer's, these toxins were positively identified through the MRI scans, while no signs were present in the control group. Following a single MRI probe researchers witnessed an improvement in animal behavior. Brain tissue of humans was also tested and showed dark areas, indicating a presence of the oligomers.