A nanotechnology nasal spray is being developed that could transform the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
The device shoots tiny magnetic particles into the nose which enter the bloodstream and are carried to the brain.
Each particle is fused to an antibody that targets and binds to rogue molecules believed to play an early role in the disease.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect both the particles and the molecules. To date scientists have only tested the technique in the laboratory on human brain tissue cultures.
But if it can be shown to work in human patients it could lead to a major leap forward in managing Alzheimer’s.
Scientists believe the changes that lead to Alzheimer’s begin decades before the first symptoms appear.
By the time a patient is diagnosed the disease is already far advanced, and experts suspect that is the main reason why a number of promising drugs have failed in patient trials.
Identifying the disease much earlier could make it far easier to treat. Details of the new research were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, US.
Lead scientist Dr William Klein, from Northwestern University, Chicago, said: “We have created a probe that targets a unique marker of Alzheimer’s disease. This technology is a promising tool for early AD diagnosis and for evaluating the efficacy of investigational new drugs at early stages of the disease.”
The antibodies developed by Dr Klein’s team target amyloid beta oligomers, small molecules that appear early in the disease and may be responsible for initiating Alzheimer’s memory loss.
Large clumps of amyloid beta protein in the brain are a key feature of late stage Alzheimer’s. Laboratory experiments showed that it was possible to distinguish healthy and diseased brain tissue using the antibodies.
Attaching the antibodies to magnetic nanoparticles allows them to be tracked by an MRI scan.
The scientists are now working on incorporating the particles into a nasal spray.
Previous research has shown it is possible to deliver the antibody minus the magnetic particles into the brains of mice through the nose.
In that study, the antibody prevented memory failure in genetically engineered animals with Alzheimer’s-like disease, suggesting that it might work as a treatment as well as a diagnostic tool.