Alzheimer’s disease, a slow killer of our memory faculties is currently detected only through cognitive tests or a post mortem brain scan. But, the brainwave of a 15-year old British student from the University of Surrey, UK, can change the way diagnosis is carried out and predict the disease onset 10 years before it strikes.
Krtin Nithiyanandam, a boy of Indian origin who moved to the UK as a baby, has developed a diagnostic antibody named as ‘Trojan horse’ for his Google Science Fair Prize project. The antibody is tagged with fluorescent probes known as Quantum dots (QDs) and when injected into the blood stream it can penetrate the brain to bind to the neurotoxic Alzhemier’s protein Aβ1-42. It can then be detected on a brain scan due to the fluorescent signal. Krtin in an interview said “The main benefits of my test are that it could be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms start to show by focusing on pathophysiological changes, some of which can occur a decade before symptoms are prevalent.”
In his project approach, Krtin mentions that that the diagnostic tests currently prevalent are identifying the wrong target i.e beta amyloid (Aβ) monomer plaques and that too at later stages of the disease. He elaborated that these plaques are also present in healthy individuals and hence he decided to focus on a more specific target such as Aβ oligomers which are present at a higher concentration and at the initial stages of the disease before symptoms start to appear. These Aβ oligomers are responsible for the disease development and are the most toxic forms of beta amyloid protein.
The unique feature of Krtin’s method of detection is that it is minimally invasive as these ‘Trojan horses’ or antibody probes can easily cross the blood brain barrier using receptor mediate transcytosis, thus, obviating the need to undergo a lumbar puncture. The research, although at a preliminary stage has also indicated that the antibody probes can stop the toxic proteins from further damage thus implying that they could possess a therapeutic potential as well.
Krtin has submitted his project to the Google Science Fair and he has been selected for the final round the results of which will be declared this month. He says “I chose Alzheimer’s disease because I am fascinated by neuroscience and the workings of the brain. I learnt about its cruel and devastating effects and how it interferes with everyday life, and nobody should have to live with this debilitating disease. Winning the Google Science Fair would be truly life changing, I can’t even begin to put into words what that would be like,” He himself had suffered from hearing issues as a child and wants to study medicine later in life.
As of now, he wishes to continue with this project and modify the Trojan horses to aid the detection of other amyloidogenic neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s by using relevant molecular markers.