Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia affects 800,000 people in the UK. Diagnosis is difficult, particularly in the early stages, but scientists from Bath developed a new technique last year that could be used in blood tests to detect a range of age-related conditions such as diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Having already proved the concept, the team has now been awarded a grant of £200,000 by the Dunhill Medical Trust to use the technique to look at human brain tissue and blood samples from individuals affected by AD.

The team is led by Dr Jean van den Elsen from the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, collaborating with Dr Robert Williams (also Department of Biology & Biochemistry), Professor Tony James (Department of Chemistry) and Professor Stephen Ward (Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology).

Dr Jean van den Elsen explained: “In the process of ageing, proteins in the body react with sugars in a process called glycation. This damages the protein’s function which in some diseases can trigger complications such as inflammation and premature ageing.

“Our technique uses a special type of gel electrophoresis that detects levels of glycated proteins in blood and tissue samples, which can be used to assess the damage caused by sugars in age-related diseases.”

The system, patented by the research team, uses boronic acid labelled with a fluorescent tag that binds to glycated proteins in tissue or blood samples. The method also allows them to distinguish glycated proteins from proteins that have been glycosylated; a normal process in healthy cells where sugars are added using enzymes.

Dr Robert Williams added: “We’re collaborating with Professor Paul Francis at the Brains for Dementia Research brain bank based at King’s College London to use our system for the first time to test brain tissue samples from individuals with AD.”

Professor Tony James said: “We will look at different areas of the brain at various stages of the disease to discover the signature biomarkers for AD so that in the future we can detect the condition more accurately.”

Professor Stephen Ward added: “We're also working with the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) to test blood samples from patients with AD. Eventually we’re hoping to develop this into a simple blood test for AD and a variety of age-related diseases.”

The team was helped by the University's Department of Development and Alumni Relations to secure the funding.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy:

Ignite talk: Taking the bitter with the sweet

Researchers improve diabetes monitoring

Better detection for Alzheimer’s and cancers, August 2013

New technique detecting ‘sugar-coated’ proteins could identify diseases earlier, March 2013