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Preclinical test may help identify neurological diseases before they manifest

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Researchers from the Center of Complexity and Biosystems of the University of Milan (Italy) have developed a preclinical microfluidic test that has demonstrated the capacity to detect the onset of aberrant protein aggregation and deposition before neurological symptoms manifest.

The novel test may assist clinicians to make early diagnosis of neurological disorders.

The study, recently published in Physical Review Applied, investigated the ability of microfluidic technology to amplify small quantities of protein aggregates, enabling clinicians to screen small biological samples to diagnose neurodegenerative disease.

Recent advances within microfluidic technology have permitted the analysis of protein aggregation in small samples through exploitation of the autocatalytic fibril nucleation process, which has recently been suggested as a key indicator for the spread of neurodegenerative disease.

However, in a diagnostic context it is necessary to minimize the possibility of false positive or negative results, which is common limitation when analyzing small quantities.

The team addressed this issue with a computational approach, simulating the onset of protein aggregations in small volumes and studying how this process fluctuates depending on the volume of the samples.

Through this process the researchers managed to develop and validate a strategy for a preclinical screening test in silico that will enable clinicians to determine the exact number of aggregates within the analyzed sample.

These results suggest significant improvements in detecting protein aggregation, proposing that we may soon be able to utilize in vitro tests for early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases.

“This is the first proof of concept ‘in silico‘ that could guide the development of a test ‘in vitro‘ to identify neurodegenerative disease before symptoms appear,” commented lead researcher, Caterina la Porta.

Sources: Costantini G, Budrikis Z, Taloni A et al. Fluctuations in Protein Aggregation: Design of Preclinical Screening for Early Diagnosis of Neurodegenerative Disease. Physical Review Applied. 6(3) 034002 (2016); http://www.unimi.it/ENG/news/4245.htm

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