A new biosensor can be used to screen for Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases. The sensor works by detecting a particular type of small protein, in this case a cytokine known as Tumour Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF alpha), which is involved with inflammation in the body. Abnormal cytokine levels have been linked to a wide variety of diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, autoimmune disease, and heart disease.
TNF alpha can act as a biomarker, a measurable characteristic indicating health status. COVID-19 can also cause inflammatory reactions known as ‘cytokine storms,’ and studies have shown that cytokine inhibitors are an effective treatment for improving chances of survival.
There are a number of established methods for detecting biomarker proteins such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and mass spectrometry, but they have several drawbacks. These existing methods are expensive, samples need to be sent away to a lab for testing and it can take a day or more to receive the results.
The biosensor is extremely sensitive and can detect TNF alpha in very low concentrations (10 fM) — well below the concentrations normally found in healthy blood samples (200–300 fM).