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Animal Model May Provide Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Breakthrough

A new biosensing technology developed by researchers from Hokkaido University and Toppan using an animal model may signal a breakthrough in early Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. The biosensing technology developed by the team using mouse models is able to detect amyloid β (Aβ) accumulation in the brain by measuring Aβ-binding exosomes in the blood. As clinical trials begin, researchers are hopeful that this may signal a breakthrough in early Alzheimer’s detection and diagnosis.

neuron network with amyloid plaques, Alzheimers disease depiction

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by cognitive decline and memory loss. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80 percent of all cases. Symptoms typically begin in middle age and worsen over time. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which represents less than 10 percent of all cases, can develop in people as young as 30 years old.

Alzheimer’s disease currently has no known prevention or cure. 

Early Alzheimer’s Detection: Why It Matters

As research for a cure for Alzheimer’s continues, so too does research on early detection and diagnosis. Scientists have long sought a reliable means of detecting Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages, when treatment is most likely to be effective.

Researchers hope that finding methods to reliably diagnose Alzheimer’s early, before irreversible brain damage or cognitive decline has occurred, could lead to better treatment options for those suffering from the disease.

That’s why the new breakthrough technology for detecting early-stage Alzheimer’s using an animal model, as captured in a recent study published in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy journal, is so promising. 

The study, authored by a team from Hokkaido University and Toppan led by Specially Appointed Associate Professor Kohei Yuyama at the Faculty of Advanced Life Science, describes a new technology that could lead to early detection of Alzheimer’s by testing for levels of Aβ-binding exosomes in the blood.

Aβ accumulation in the brain is thought to be a key pathological event in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Aβ accumulation leads to the formation of senile plaques, which are deposits of Aβ that accumulate in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Being able to test for increased Aβ levels in the brain could be a method for earlier Alzheimer’s diagnosis. However, this has largely not been feasible as Aβ levels can only be measured through one of two methods: cerebrospinal fluid testing, an extremely invasive test, or positron emission tomography, which is expensive.

That’s why Yuyama and his team’s discovery that Aβ accumulation in the brain can be detected by testing for Aβ-binding exosome levels in blood samples is so important. They found that there was a significant increase in the level of Aβ-binding exosomes found in the blood of mice with brain Aβ accumulation compared to control mice without brain Aβ accumulation. That suggests that Aβ-binding exosomes could be used as a biomarker for detecting early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Yuyama’s team also developed a device, adapted from Toppan’s proprietary Digital Invasive Cleavage Assay (Digital ICA), that traps molecules and particles such that they are able to measure the concentration of Aβ-binding exosomes in as little as 100 µL of blood.

Human trials using this new method are in the early stages. If the team’s promising animal model results prove to be replicable in human trials, this could represent a potentially groundbreaking new method for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, which is critical for the treatment and management of the disease. 

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