Using one of the latest advances in sub-atomic technology, scientists at Lancaster University have developed a technique which could potentially allow the early diagnosis of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
By the time such diseases are diagnosed conventionally, significant brain damage has already occurred. But more advanced drug treatments are likely to be increasingly effective if the disease can be diagnosed earlier.
The breakthrough technique also allows scientists to monitor the effectiveness of drugs and other inhibitors on the aggregation of key proteins that accumulate in the brain in Alzheimer's and related disorders.
The process involves monitoring protein aggregation in vitro and is non-invasive. It can generate results rapidly, potentially speeding up the drug discovery process. The research was partly funded by the Alzheimer's Society.
Central to the success of the breakthrough was protein measuring equipment from UK company Farfield Scientific. This uses a laser-based technology known as dual polarisation interferometry to detect and study the structure and aggregation of disease-related proteins.
Using Fairfield's equipment, the researchers at Lancaster University can precisely measure in vitro the protein interactions that lead to aggregation in real time.
"The technique can be used to gain a better understanding of many diseases at a molecular level," said Professor David Allsop of Lancaster University.
"This is done by measuring protein structures as they interact with each other, with other proteins or with candidate drug molecules."
The technique can detect these interactions at a very early stage, when aggregation of proteins is thought to be most toxic to brain cells and which leads to the rapid progress of the disease.
The Farfield equipment is capable of recording changes smaller than 0.1 angstroms (one hundredth of a nanometre or 0.00000001mm) which is considerably smaller than the protein molecules.
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