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UCF team developing tool kit to help diagnose dementia

With the risk of developing dementia growing at an alarming pace, a University of Central Florida research team is working with the Boston University School of Medicine to develop a miniature diagnostic toolkit in the hopes of stimulating earlier detection and treatment.

The collaborative research project, funded by the National Science Foundation for up to $600,000 over three years, will use nanoparticles on a chip about the size of a credit card to detect damaging levels of oxygen byproducts in the central nervous system.

The byproducts, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), are major contributors to serious neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The development of new analytical tools for speeding up diagnosis and treatment of these disorders is critical if we hope to slow their growth, said lead researcher Hyoung Jin Cho, an associate professor of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Central Florida and a researcher at UCF's NanoScience Technology Center.

The number of people with dementia, which is the primary precursor to Alzheimer's, will almost double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, according to the 2009 World Alzheimer Report from Alzheimer's Disease International. The report, issued last week in recognition of World Alzheimer's Day, calls for making the fight against the disease a national and global priority.

"This research shows significant potential for better understanding the role of ROS in neurodegenerative diseases," said Cho. "Once we have a clearer understanding of the role of ROS, we may be able to address more effective treatments."

Existing tests have several drawbacks. They are only able to detect limited numbers of significant byproducts at a time; they require time-consuming and labor-intensive processing; and they don't work quickly enough to keep up with the short lifespan of most of the byproducts.

Cho has previously developed a microfluidic mixer and a miniaturized electrochemical sensor for "lab on a chip" applications that would allow scientists to perform multiple analyses on one miniaturized chip. He said the ROS assessment tool will be developed on a similar platform.

What will make the ROS detector unique is the use of nanoparticles to help detect the high oxidative stress that has been identified as one of the earliest indicators of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Cho partnered with Sudipta Seal, director of UCF's NanoScience Technology and Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis centers, who has studied rare earth cerium oxide nanoparticles for years. Seal has found them to be effective at everything from treating glaucoma to cleansing fly ash from smokestacks.

Because the nanoparticles behave like an antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative stress, they can effectively serve as an indicator of ROS, Seal said.

Together with Diego Diaz, a NanoScience Technology Center and Department of Chemistry faculty member, the researchers are collaborating with a group led by Lee Goldstein, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.

UCF's share of the NSF funding is $346,000.


Contact: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
University of Central Florida

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