A technique that’s used to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can be used to identify vitamin B12, a lack of which can cause dementia.
It may sound like something straight out of a science fiction or action film, but researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia have developed a method which, as well as being used to detect improvised explosive devices, could also be used to detect dementia.
The method uses light intensity to determine the presence of explosive residue in IEDs. However, the same method could also highlight how much vitamin B12 is in human blood, which could then be used to determine the risk of memory loss (which can be caused by a lack of this vitamin).
The technique uses optical fibre and a laser to collect a signature from the molecule vibrations that make up the sample of blood and delivers it to a machine called a spectrometer (we did tell you it sounded very science fiction…!) which measures the spectrum of light. The device then analyses this signature and lets researchers identify the molecules it corresponds to.
Lead investigator Georgios Tsiminis said the technique was still being modified for commercial use but could also be used to detect a range of different molecules useful in identifying other diseases.
‘We shine a light onto a blood sample that gives us a measurement of the amount of vitamin B12, which is linked to dementia,’ said Dr Tsiminis.
‘It’s a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to normal methods that could be applied to diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
‘Our sensor is an early first step towards a point-of-care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in healthy ageing adults. This would allow doctors to monitor B12 levels and intervene as soon as B12 deficiency was detected.’
Vitamin B12 is used in the functioning of nerve tissues, brain function and red blood cells. A lack of it can cause memory problems including conditions such as Korsakoff Syndrome. Measuring levels of B12 in the blood through a standard blood test takes longer than this new method using light detection, and is often not offered in standard health tests. Researchers hope a quicker and easier method would make vitamin B12 deficiency easier to identify.