Although one in three seniors passes away with Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia, there’s still quite a lot we don’t know about these memory conditions. Patients typically don’t receive an official, affirmative diagnosis of Alzheimer’s until after their passing; until now, the only way to definitively confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s was with an autopsy.
However, we’re now one step closer to being able to verify an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis — through very unconventional means. A technique that has previously been used to detect Improvised Explosive Devices is now being used to identify dementia-linked vitamins in the bloodstream.
This method, first developed in 2014 by researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, used light intensity to identify the presence of explosive residue. Now, the method is being used to zero in on vitamin B12 in blood. Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy nerve tissue, brain function, and red blood cells. A lack of Vitamin B12 can be an early warning sign of dementia, though it can be attributed to other factors.
Using a laser and optical fibre, the technique collects molecule “signatures.” As the light shines through a vial filled with diluted human blood, the vitamin B12 molecules in the sample start to vibrate. These vibrations are what form the signature. The signature is then delivered to a spectrometer, which analyzes the signature and permits researchers to identify the correct corresponding molecule.
Researchers will continue to reduce the sensitivity limit and expand the test across all blood types to ensure this test will prove effective in a wider population. Currently, most people are not tested for a vitamin B12 deficiency. These experts hope that with this technique, that could change.
The method is still being refined for commercial use, but researchers are optimistic that the technique can be used to detect other sorts of molecules — and therefore, identify the presence of additional diseases.