University of Minnesota researchers have developed a groundbreaking new diagnostic technique that will allow for faster and more accurate detection of neurodegenerative diseases. The method will likely open a door for earlier treatment and mitigation of various diseases that affect humans, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and similar diseases that affect animals, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD). Their new study is published in Nano Letters.
“Ultimately, our goal is to expand the technology for a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s being the two main targets,” said Sang-Hyun Oh, senior co-author of the paper and a professor in the College of Science and Engineering. “Our vision is to develop ultra-sensitive, powerful diagnostic techniques for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases so that we can detect biomarkers early on, perhaps allowing more time for the deployment of therapeutic agents that can slow down the disease progression. We want to help improve the lives of millions of people affected by neurodegenerative diseases.”
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, mad cow disease and CWD share a common feature: the buildup of misfolded proteins in the central nervous system. Detecting these misfolded proteins is crucial for understanding and diagnosing these devastating disorders. However, existing diagnostic methods, like enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunohistochemistry, can be expensive, time-consuming and limiting in terms of antibody specificity.
The researchers’ method, dubbed Nano-QuIC (Nanoparticle-enhanced Quaking-Induced Conversion), significantly improves the performance of advanced protein-misfolding detection methods, such as the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories’ Real-Time Quaking-Induced Conversion (RT-QuIC) assay. The Nano-QuIC method dramatically reduces detection times from about 14 hours to only four hours and increases the sensitivity by a factor of 10.
Having a quicker and highly accurate detection method is particularly important for understanding and controlling transmission of CWD, a disease that is spreading in deer across North America, Scandinavia and South Korea. The researchers believe that Nano-QuIC could eventually prove useful for detecting protein-misfolding diseases in humans, specifically Parkinson's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Alzheimer's and ALS.
“Testing for these neurodegenerative diseases in both animals and humans has been a major challenge to our society for decades,” said Peter Larsen, senior co-author of the paper and an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “What we’re seeing now is this really exciting time when new, next-generation diagnostic tests are emerging for these diseases. The impact that our research has is that it’s greatly improving upon those next-generation tests, it’s making them more sensitive and it’s making them more accessible.”