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3 September 2014
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Science and Nature

A brain
The brain

Robot joins Alzheimer's study

The University of Manchester has revealed their new researcher in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease - a robot scientist!

What will happen:

The study, which lasts three years, will use blood samples taken from volunteers across the Greater Manchester and Stockport area consisting of Alzheimer’s patients and age-match controls. In total, 1000 volunteers will be recruited to the study.

The robot, which operates independently in the lab, will be used to analyse hundreds of blood samples taken from volunteers both with and without diagnosed Alzheimer’s in the first-ever study focusing on metabolites in such a specific way.

Why metabolites?

Metabolites are chemicals in the body produced when cells burn 'food'. By analysing them, it's possible to determine the health of the cells which have produced them, and therefore determine if there are biological clues held inside the metabolites that can offer an earlier diagnosis of the disease and predict whether a particular medication is going to be effective or not.

How will it help?

An elderly patient with a carer
Alzheimer's can mean sufferers need constant care

It’s hoped the study could lead to the development of a blood test for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, suspected sufferers are put through cognitive tests and further investigations such as brain scans. It’s a process which leads to delay in treatment and an absolutely certain diagnosis is only possible through post-mortem.

How does it work?

A technique known as GCGC-MS or Gas Chromatography/Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectroscopy (it goes through two gas columns, that’s why the phrase is repeated), which has been specially calibrated at the University, will be used to measure accurately the concentration of thousands of the metabolites in the blood samples. This is the first study in the world to measure so many chemicals in the blood and to use them to improve diagnosis.

Why is it necessary?

"There is a pressing need to find a simple and objective way, such as a blood test, of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and monitoring its progression."
Professor Burns explains why the study is necessary

Dementia affects over 800,000 people in the UK, affecting around five percent of over 65s and up to 20 percent in over 80s. With the population of over 60s predicted to rise to 15 million by 2021, the number of cases could sky-rocket.

Joint project leader and Professor of Old Age Psychiatry Alistair Burns hopes that the research will help with an earlier diagnosis:

"Everyone knows someone or of someone who has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Its symptoms have devastating effects on the patients and their family.

"There is a pressing need to find a simple and objective way, such as a blood test, of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and monitoring its progression, especially the effectiveness of treatments. By looking at so many chemicals simultaneously, the chances of observing a true diagnostic marker for Alzheimer’s disease are very good."

last updated: 05/09/06
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