Diagnosing Alzheimer’s typically happens one of two ways: after death, during an autopsy, or by using a costly PET scan that requires radioactive tracers to be injected into a patient. The scan assesses the amount of beta-amyloid plaque build-up in the brain, but is typically not covered by insurance and costs between $3,000 to $4,000.
But now, scientists are looking to diamonds to diagnose the disease swiftly, cheaply and easily with a simple blood plasma scan in a new study. The study, conducted by Lancaster University in England, analyzed 550 blood samples from people with Alzheimer’s and other neurogenerative diseases, as well as healthy individuals. The samples were looked at through a diamond sensor that was flooded with infrared light, which allowed researchers to get a “spectral fingerprint” of all the molecules present in the blood samples.
In the study, scientists were able to distinguish between diseases like Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease, which present similarly symptoms-wise, but are caused by different physiological changes in the brain. Distinguishing between the two could help patients get the right treatment earlier once a drug is available.
Alzheimer’s is often misdiagnosed. In a study launched in 2016, researchers have found that a significant number of patient thought to have Alzheimer’s actually don’t have the disease. Two-thirds of participants changed their care plans as a result of the four-year study, which is only in the beginning of its second year.
Read the full write-up of the blood analysis study here.