‘Smart patch’ can detect warning signs of Alzheimer’s in just 6 minutes

SWANSEA, United Kingdom — A new patch that uses microneedles to examine the chemicals in a person’s skin can detect the signs of Alzheimer’s before symptoms emerge. Scientists at Swansea University say this groundbreaking device can spot inflammatory biomarkers of the disease with great accuracy in just six minutes. The “smart patch” can even detect other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

The team says the microneedles are able to analyze certain markers within skin interstitial fluid (ISF) without drawing blood. The tiny needles break a wearer’s outer skin barrier in a minimally-invasive way, meaning this test could screen for Alzheimer’s in the comfort of a patient’s home.

A doctor holds a small white patch that detects signs of Alzheimer's.
Dr. Sanjiv Sharma of Swansea University has developed a new ‘smart patch’ that can detect proinflammatory biomarkers of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) through the use of microneedle technology. (CREDIT: Swansea University)

“The skin is the largest organ in the body – it contains more ISF than the total volume of blood. This fluid is an ultrafiltrate of blood and holds biomarkers that complement other biofluids such as sweat, saliva, and urine. It can be sampled in a minimally invasive manner and used either for point of care testing or real time using microneedle devices,” says Dr. Sanjiv Sharma in a media release.

What does the smart patch look for?

Dr. Sharma previously developed the world’s first COVID-19 “smart patch.” That device can reportedly deliver the COVID-19 vaccine as well as monitor its effectiveness throughout the patient’s body using the same microneedle technology. Sharma’s team collaborated with the Biomark ISEP lab in Portugal during this new project.

“We employed microneedle array-based biosensing patches as wearable transdermal sensors to detect the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. IL-6 is present in the skin ISF with other cytokines and is implicated in many clinical states including neurodegenerative diseases and fatal pneumonia from SARSCoV 2. We have been able to detect IL-6 at concentrations as low as 1 pg/mL in synthetic skin ISF, indicating its utility for routine point of care, bloodless measurements in simpler settings, worldwide,” Dr. Sharma continues.

“The devices we developed are scalable, and the resulting sensor has a short measurement time (6 minutes), with high accuracy and a low limit of detection. This new diagnostic tool, for screening of inflammatory biomarkers in point of care testing, will see the skin act as a window to the body and vital organs such as the brain.”

“Biomark ISEP Porto have pioneered applications of molecular imprinted polymers (MIPs) and extended them to different healthcare applications. Together with Swansea’s expertise in transdermal diagnostics we have demonstrated that the MIPs together with the microneedle arrays offers a fantastic platform for the development of point of care devices for bloodless testing. These can be extended to diagnostics for cardiovascular, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders,” adds study co-author Felismina Moreira from the School of Engineering, Polytechnic Institute in Portugal.

The team describe their new Alzheimer’s patch in the journal ACS Omega.

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