Creating new tracers to highlight the spread of amyloid

A team at the University of Liverpool is working to create a new way to track the spread of tiny seeds of amyloid protein through the brain.



Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the build-up of toxic proteins, which are thought to begin as seeds and grown into the larger clumps. These seeds are thought to spread between nerve cells, meaning the damage they cause also spreads throughout the brain, and this underlies the progressive nature of the disease. To be able to gain insight into the processes underpinning this spread, scientists need to have tools that can track the spread of protein seeds. This new project sets out to design and test a new tracer that will highlight where the seeds of amyloid are and how they are being transmitted through the brain.

Being able to detect amyloid in living systems will help researchers expand our understanding of amyloid seeds and the chain of events initiated by them, with the hope that this could one day be part of accurately diagnosing someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, if we can understand the earliest events in the disease process, we may be able to create effective treatments that could halt Alzheimer’s in its tracks before it has a chance to take hold. This projects encompasses the early stages of design and testing new tools that could not only shed light on what is happening in the brain in Alzheimer’s, but also may lead to better ways to diagnose the disease.

The team will create antibodies that bind to tiny seeds of amyloid, attaching gold nanoparticles to these antibodies to create probes that will show up on a specialised ultrasound imaging system. Using ultrasound waves means the researchers can see deeper into living tissue, with the gold particles showing up in the images produced. First, they will need to check that the gold-antibody probes do not have negative effects, testing them on cells grown in a dish to confirm that the probes don’t cause the cells to die. Then they will asses how stable the gold-antibody probes are, to ensure they are not rapidly broken down inside living systems by testing them over different time periods. The team will also need to check how efficient and sensitive the probes are at labelling seeds of amyloid. Once this is established, the team can then look to test the probes and the ultrasound imaging system on animals such as mice, with this project forming the initial steps towards a potential new tool which could be used to help diagnose people with Alzheimer’s.

A scientist holding a model of a human brain

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Awarded to
Dr Jillian Madine

University of Liverpool

Current Award

1 October 2017 - 30 September 2018

Full project name
Gold nano-rods and multispectral optoacoustic tomography – a new approach to understanding amyloid