Graphic of an artificial eye

Ocular lens could detect early-stage Alzheimer's

Image credit: Dreamstime

Korean scientists have been able to develop a lens that can be inserted into the eye to detect early signs of dementia.

The team is based at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) in collaboration with Yonsei University. 

The lens is considered Korea's first smart intraocular lens technology, capable of diagnosing Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease, at its early stages. It works by being inserted into the eye to detect biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease, as well as other neurological and degenerative brain diseases. 

To detect these biomarkers, the researchers focused on the characteristics of the eye, which is directly connected to the brain. They developed an implantable biosensing system by mounting a bioresponsive hydrogel-based sensing module capable of detecting various biomarkers on an intraocular lens to express a signal in a moiré pattern.

When the hydrogel pattern reacted with the target biomarker, it contracted, allowing the scientists to identify it.

Biomarker detection using reactive hydrogel patterns and moiré signals

Biomarker detection using reactive hydrogel patterns and moiré signals / Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM)

Image credit: Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM)

The target biomarker is then detected using changes in the moiré signal, which are generated when the hydrogel pattern overlaps with the designated reference grid.

The team used this specific type of signal due to the fact that it possesses much greater sensitivity than that of other methods that directly detect a change in the hydrogel pattern.
In addition, unlike traditional biosensors, the moiré signal-based biomarker detection method can directly detect biomarkers without using electrochemical or fluorescent labels. Since this method does not require external power or a light source, one of its advantages is that it can be implanted within the body.
Principal Researchers JaeJong Lee and Geehong Kim of the KIMM Department of Nano Manufacturing Technology stressed the many benefits of this diagnostic method, which has the potential to revolutionise how we treat dementia and Alzheimer's. 

They added that KIMM will continue to promote further research on this technology until it can be made available for commercial use. The results of their research study were published in Bioactive Materials. 

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 50 million people worldwide. Although it usually develops without any symptoms over many years, it is generally preceded by a mild cognitive impairment. 

In April last year, a study led by scientists at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) looked into leveraging artificial intelligence to aid in the diagnosis of these mild cognitive impairments before they progress to Alzheimer’s disease.

Moreover, in September, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, use similar technology to examine structural and cellular features of human brain tissues to help determine the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and other related disorders. 

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