Method for Detecting Homemade Bombs Now Targeting Indicator of Dementia

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Deficiency of vitamin B12 has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

A technique using light intensity to detect explosive residue in homemade bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), is now being used by researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia to identify vitamins in blood that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Vitamin B12 is an essential component for the proper functioning and health of nerve tissue, brain and red blood cells. According to the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., people older than 14 years-of-age should consume about 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 per day, pregnant women 2.6 mcg and lactating women 2.8 mcg.

Vitamin B12 deficiency, most common in older adults and vegetarians (it can be found in most foods that come from animals, but is not typically found in plant foods), can cause various signs and symptoms, including memory loss. Although it is not clear if vitamin B12 supplements can improve symptoms of dementia, low levels of this vitamin possibly can be used as a biomarker for the onset of Alzheimer’s.

In this technique, light shines through a sample of diluted blood, causing vitamin B12 molecules to vibrate. Then an optical fibre will detect these vibrations and deliver the information to a machine that carefully analyzes the “vibrational signature.” Researchers then can identify the molecule to which it corresponds.

“We shine a light onto a blood sample that gives us a measurement of the amount of vitamin B12, which is linked to dementia,” George Tsiminis, lead researcher of the study, said in a news release. “It’s a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to normal methods that could be applied to diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

“Our sensor is an early first step toward a point-of-care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in healthy aging adults. This would allow doctors to monitor B12 levels and intervene as soon as B12 deficiency was detected,” said Tsiminis.

The technique is being modified for commercial use and also may be useful for the diagnosis of other diseases by detecting several different molecules present in blood samples.

“The next step has to do with showing that the sensitivity limit can be reduced, but we need a wider scale study, across different blood types, to show that down the line this is something that can be applied to a wider population,” Tsiminis said.

The results of this research were recently presented at the SPIE BioPhotonics Australasia Conference in Adelaide, South Australia, a meeting exploring the use of light technologies in the diagnosis and treatment of biological systems.