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Can a Smart Patch Detect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?

McNair Dallas Law

Alzheimer's Research lab

Scientists have developed a ‘smart patch’ device they claim can detect neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, within minutes.

A smart patch uses tiny needles – also known as microneedle technology – to break a patient’s skin barrier just enough to monitor signs of neurodegenerative diseases – known as biomarkers – before symptoms of the disease emerge, according to findings published in ACS Publications.

Seasons’ recent article entitled, “Can a simple skin test detect Alzheimer’s?” reports that Sanjiv Sharma, PhD, co-author of the study from Swansea University in Swansea, Wales, commented that because no cure exists for these types of diseases, tools like the smart patch can help patients receive an early diagnosis and benefit more from potential treatments.

“Alzheimer’s disease numbers are increasing at quite an alarming rate. The only confirmed diagnosis you have for Alzheimer’s is when the person is dead and they do an autopsy and find protein plaques in the brain,” Sharma said. “There is clearly a big need for early diagnosis for early onset of the disease.”

The smart patch should be placed on major body areas, including the arm and stomach, for the most effective results. The devices use smart technology to detect certain biomarkers, such as molecules associated with a certain disease. The smart patch doesn’t collect or extract anything from the skin. Instead, biomarker molecules attach themselves to the molecular-imprinted polymers or cavities on the patch, which can then be monitored electrochemically or optically. The patch constantly monitors the skin and can send any data to a connected computer, providing results to medical providers and patients.

In the case of this study, the researchers used smart patches and microneedle technology to detect small proteins used to control the growth and activity of other immune system cells. However, when the production of these proteins is impaired, it can lead to the development of various diseases—and possibly the presence of neurodegenerative disease.

Other experts not involved in the study say that while the possibility of having a tool like this that would also be readily available in every doctor’s office can be beneficial, it shouldn’t be the only thing used when making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Temporarily inserting something into the skin that can pick up a specific level of identified molecules as the disease would be very useful for everybody,” Charles Duffy, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told Seasons. “The problem with that is because Alzheimer’s is a clinical diagnosis, any kind of blood test, spinal fluid test or other kinds of chemically based tests can’t be the entire basis for the diagnosis.”

The main advantage of the smart patch device is that it can continuously monitor biomarkers and molecules of certain diseases in a minimally invasive way compared to other Alzheimer’s detection methods, like blood or saliva-based tests, said Felismina Moreira, PhD, co-author of the study from the School of Engineering at Polytechnic Institute in Portugal.

While the devices aren’t yet available to the public, they hope that one day they can be used to help detect Alzheimer’s and other related dementias early to help minimize people’s risk.

“This is an exciting new technology, but its applicability to complex diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is not proven yet,” he said. “We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that because it does ‘this’ in their laboratory setup, that it’s necessarily going to be directly translatable into other clinical applications.”

Reference: Seasons (Jan. 26, 2023) “Can a simple skin test detect Alzheimer’s?”

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