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Sensor to Detect B-12 Deficiency Developed To Help in Dementia, Alzheimer’s

In old-age, the frequent occurrence of B12 deficiency could lead to dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease as the body metabolism fails to absorb the vitamin from the diet, requiring an early medical intervention.

To help detect B12 deficieny early, Australia’s University of Adelaide researchers have developed a first of its kind optical sensor using a technique called Raman spectroscopy that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood – a first step towards a low-cost, portable, broadscale vitamin B12 deficiency test.

The sensor, still at proof-of-concept stage, has wide-reaching potential applications. It enables doctors in tracking vitamin B12 levels in high-risk patients and provide an early intervention – to top up immediately vitamin B12 levels when low. Current tests are lengthy and costly too.

Scientists in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, and the Schools of Physical Sciences and Medicine, in their presentation today at an international biophotonics conference in Adelaide – the inaugural SPIE BioPhotonics Australasia conference — revealed the new sensor.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency has been shown to be a potential modifiable risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with cognitive decline,” says Dr Georgios Tsiminis, Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide.

“Our sensor is an early first step towards a point-of-care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in healthy ageing adults. This would allow doctors to monitor B12 levels and intervene.”

"Currently our device could not aid in diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice setting… We believe this is a very promising first step towards achieving this goal," she said.

The optical sensor measures B12 in human blood in less than a minute and requires minimum preparation. This is the first demonstration of vitamin B12 being measured in human blood serum without the need for a full lab tests.

The sensor uses an optical measuring technique called Raman spectroscopy which produces a unique optical fingerprint of a target molecule, in this case vitamin B12.

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