Nanoparticles signal the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

A failing memory coupled with a growing inability to carry out the simplest tasks may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, where a build-up of solid plaques, composed of specific abnormal protein fragments, slowly destroys the brain’s nerve cells. So far, there have been very few methods in which the potentially fatal disease can be diagnosed at an early stage.

Magnetic resonance imaging can usually capture the vicious plaque build-ups, but it’s only able to do so at a very late stage of Alzheimer’s disease, probably when it’s already too late to reverse or ease any of the disease’s effects.

The main challenge in diagnostics lies in finding a contrast agent that can safely cross into the brain. Nanoparticles are good candidates. But the semipermeable membrane known as blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from foreign agents that can disturb its neural function, keeps these nanoparticles out.

It’s what prompted Xuefei Huang, a researcher at the Michigan State University, US, to explore ways to modify nanoparticles to try and make them cross the barrier. Huang and his colleagues began to sift through potential molecules that could be used to modify magnetic nanoparticles.

The team, that included a researcher from Benha University, Egypt, narrowed down their search to two molecules: an animal protein and sialic acid, which is an organic acid widely found in the brain and human milk. read more

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