In Ireland, over 44,000 people are affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. There are 7.7 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, implying that there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world every four seconds. At present there is no test to screen for this disease. The World Alzheimer Report 2011 identified that the current lack of detection is a significant barrier to improving lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, their families and carers.
The research team based at the Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI), UL are leading a European consortium that is developing the nanoscope. Dr Syed Tofail, Lead Scientist on the project said; “Early detection of Alzheimer’s is critical in developing effective treatments for the disease and there is currently no test available. Our technique would be able to detect Alzheimer’s-related amyloid plaques in the early stage with much more detail.”
The prototype developed will be easy to use, flexible and allow direct imaging of the chemistry and the structure of very small features. The technique uses infra-red radiation as a source of detection but breaks away from its physical diffraction limit so as to see features as small as 70 nanometers in lateral dimension, which is comparable to the size of a virus. The technique is also capable of seeing buried features without the need for destroying the surface of a cell or a material.