(Nanowerk News) University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers have developed a groundbreaking new diagnostic technique that will enable faster and more accurate detection of neurodegenerative diseases. This method is likely to open the door to early treatment and mitigation of many diseases that affect humans, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and similar diseases that affect animals, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD).
Their new study was published in Nano Letters (“Nanoparticle-Enhanced RT-QuIC (Nano-QuIC) Diagnostic Testing for Misfolded Proteins”).
“This paper primarily focuses on chronic wasting disease in deer, but ultimately our goal is to extend the technology to a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s being the two main targets,” said Sang-Hyun Oh, senior co-author of the paper and Professor Distinguished McKnight University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota. “Our vision is to develop highly sensitive and robust diagnostic techniques for various neurodegenerative diseases so that we can detect biomarkers early, perhaps allowing more time for the deployment of therapeutic agents that can slow disease progression. We want to help improve the lives of millions of people affected by neurodegenerative diseases.”
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, mad cow disease, and CWD (found in many deer) share a common feature—the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the central nervous system. Detecting these misfolded proteins is critical to understanding and diagnosing this devastating disorder. However, existing diagnostic methods, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent and immunohistochemical assays, can be expensive, time consuming, and limit the specificity of antibodies.
The University of Minnesota researchers’ method, dubbed Nano-QuIC (Nanoarticle-enhanced Quaking-Induced Conversion), significantly improves the performance of advanced protein misfolding detection methods, such as NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories Real-Time Earthquake Induced Conversion (RT-QuIC test).
The RT-QuIC method involves churning a normal protein mixture with a small amount of misfolded protein, triggering a chain reaction that causes the protein to double and allows the detection of these disordered proteins. Using tissue samples from deer, the University of Minnesota team showed that adding 50 nanometer silica nanoparticles to the RT-QuIC experiment dramatically reduced detection time from about 14 hours to just four hours and increased sensitivity by a factor of 10.
Typically a 14-hour detection cycle means lab technicians can only run one test per normal work day. However, with a detection time of less than four hours, researchers can now run three or even four tests per day.
Having faster and more accurate detection methods is critical to understanding and controlling the transmission of CWD, a disease that is spreading in deer throughout North America, Scandinavia and South Korea. The researchers believe that Nano-QuIC may eventually prove useful for detecting protein folding diseases in humans, particularly Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Alzheimer’s, and ALS.
“Testing these neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans has been a huge challenge for our society,” said Peter Larsen, senior co-author of the paper and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. “What we’re seeing now is a really exciting time when a new generation of diagnostic tests are emerging for this disease. The impact of our research is that it greatly improves on the next generation of tests, makes them more sensitive, and makes them more accessible.