In recent years, for example, Mirkin and his collaborator William Klein have developed an ultra-sensitive method using nanotechnology that could lead to a clinical test capable of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages, instead of after death. They found a biomarker in living humans associated with the disease that apparently is present long before plaques and tangles show up in the brain, and before the signs of dementia become obvious.
Using bio-bar-code amplification technology, which Northwestern scientists invented in 2003, they detected miniscule amounts of a toxic protein in human cerebrospinal fluid, Amyloid ß-derived diffusible ligands or ADDLs (pronounced “addles”), that may be responsible for the early neurological deterioration in Alzheimer’s disease.
The bio-bar-code amplification technology is a powerful nano analytical tool that can detect both proteins and DNA, as well as identify trace amounts of anthrax lethal factor and PSA. Potentially, it also could target known biomarkers for a wide variety of diseases, including HIV, cancer and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a degenerative neurological disorder.
Nanotechnology “is going to be everywhere," Mirkin says, adding: “Creating highly sensitive ways of screening for diseases is going to change the way the medical profession operates, and will make a tremendous difference in the outcome for millions of patients."
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