. Scientific Frontline: Researchers develop technique for rapid detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and CWD

Monday, May 1, 2023

Researchers develop technique for rapid detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and CWD

Illustration Credit: Sang-Hyun Oh Research Group, University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota researchers have developed a groundbreaking new diagnostic technique that will allow for faster and more accurate detection of neurodegenerative diseases. The method will likely open a door for earlier treatment and mitigation of various 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 is published in Nano Letters.

“This research mainly focuses on chronic wasting disease in deer, but ultimately our goal is to expand the technology for 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 a professor in the College of Science and Engineering. “Our vision is to develop ultra-sensitive, powerful diagnostic techniques for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases so that we can detect biomarkers early on, perhaps allowing more time for the deployment of therapeutic agents that can slow down the 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 — which is widely found in deer — share a common feature: the buildup of misfolded proteins in the central nervous system. Detecting these misfolded proteins is crucial for understanding and diagnosing these devastating disorders. However, existing diagnostic methods, like enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunohistochemistry, can be expensive, time-consuming and limiting in terms of antibody specificity.

The researchers’ method, dubbed Nano-QuIC (Nanoparticle-enhanced Quaking-Induced Conversion), significantly improves the performance of advanced protein-misfolding detection methods, such as the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories’ Real-Time Quaking-Induced Conversion (RT-QuIC) assay.

The RT-QuIC method dramatically reduces detection times from about 14 hours to only four hours and increases the sensitivity by a factor of 10.

Having a quicker and highly accurate detection method is particularly important for understanding and controlling transmission of CWD, a disease that is spreading in deer across North America, Scandinavia and South Korea. The researchers believe that Nano-QuIC could eventually prove useful for detecting protein-misfolding diseases in humans, specifically Parkinson's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Alzheimer's and ALS.

“Testing for these neurodegenerative diseases in both animals and humans has been a major challenge to our society for decades,” said Peter Larsen, senior co-author of the paper and an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “What we’re seeing now is this really exciting time when new, next generation diagnostic tests are emerging for these diseases. The impact that our research has is that it’s greatly improving upon those next generation tests, it’s making them more sensitive and it’s making them more accessible.”

“Minnesotans value science and support basic and applied research. As legislators, we have invested Environmental Trust Fund dollars to provide solutions for complex problems like chronic wasting disease,” said Representative Rick Hansen, chair of the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and co-chair of the LCCMR. “I am proud of the work of the LCCMR and the legislature in supporting this research and will continue to advocate for funding to research and prevent future problems affecting our wildlife and ourselves.”

Larsen and Oh lead the University’s Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO) molecular diagnostic research and development team, which leverages this government funding to conduct research on protein misfolding diseases that greatly impact the state of Minnesota.

Funding: The research was funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR); the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Rapid Agricultural Response Fund; and the Minnesota Agricultural, Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) program.

Published in journalNano Letters

Source/CreditUniversity of Minnesota

Reference Number: nt050123_01

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