TU Darmstadt chemists develop new method to diagnose Alzheimer's

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Chemists at the Technische Universität Darmstadt have developed a new method for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease. The method involves making protein deposits on mucous nasal membranes that are detectable years before the disease erupts visible.

Alzheimer's Disease remains incurable and difficult to diagnose.  Indications are provided by expensive radiological methods, such as computed or magnetic-resonance tomography, reports by family members, or memory tests. However, such indications hardly allow early diagnoses of the disease, and significant brain damage will have occurred by the time the first symptoms of deteriorating short-term memory appear.

Chemists at the TU Darmstadt and pathologists at Darmstadt City Hospital have now developed a highly promising, new method for detecting Alzheimer's disease in its early stages. They found that deposits of the tau protein that causes mortification of affected brain cells in Alzheimer's sufferers are detectable on mucous nasal membranes, even before dementia commences.

Prof. Boris Schmidt of the Clemens Schöpf Institute for Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the TU Darmstadt explained that, "All that was known to date was that the harmful deposits were evident in both brain cells and ocular nerve cells. Diagnoses via retinal scans, where fluorescent dies were supposed to make the offending ocular deposits visible to the examining ophthalmologist, were therefore the preferred method." In the course of research work on such dies, the TU Darmstadt chemists and pathologist Roland Heyny-von Hauβen discovered that they also made deposits on mucous nasal membranes visible. As Prof. Schmidt put it, "We found the typical deposits on nasal Bowman glands, which, among other things, produce nasal secretions."

Accurate diagnoses of the stage of the disease can now be made.

Since the attendant changes in mucous nasal membranes are very closely correlated to the offending brain deposits, investigations of the mucous nasal membranes have thus far allowed making more accurate diagnoses of the stage of the disease than retinal scans. Prof. Schmidt went on to say that, "The more nasal tau-protein deposits we found in patients, the worse were their brain structures infested - to date, such a correlation has never been reliably established in the case of ocular deposits."

The Darmstadt group regards the lessened effects on patients as another benefit of the nasal investigations. Prof. Schmidt envisions one possible physical examination as involving administering the fluorescent die involved in tablet or nasal-spray form. The examination could then be conducted using an illuminating endoscope.

In conjunction with a clinical study, the Darmstadt group initially investigated the mucous nasal membranes of 100 deceased Alzheimer's patients in order to determine the earliest stage, at which Alzheimer's disease could be diagnosed. In parallel therewith, the associated endoscopic diagnostics were investigated in trials conducted on Alzheimer's patients at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

Source: Technische Universität Darmstadt


  1. Emory Hill, PhD Emory Hill, PhD United States says:

    The cost-effective detection of a propensity to develop Alzheimer's will be extremely valuable when treatment is available. It can be integrated with the cost-effective computerized testing of cognitive abilities that detects actual decline (e.g. the CANS-MCI), so that people don't need to be anxious for years before there is any need to know.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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