Better Alzheimer's detection: new EU-funded project to develop nanoscope

(Nanowerk News) A new research project that will pioneer a nanoscope to screen patient cells and potentially help with the early detection of Alzheimer's disease has just kicked off.
With a boost of more than EUR 4 million in funding from the 'Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the LANIR ('Label free nanoscopy using infra red') project will bring together researchers from 11 partner institutes across Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy and Romania. The consortium is made up of both small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) and academic partners.
Set to run until 2012, the central aim of LANIR is to help find a way of detecting Alzheimer's disease in its early stages, as this is critical to developing effective treatments for the condition. At present, there is no such test available, despite the 7.7 million new cases each year worldwide, as well as 800 000 new patients in Europe who are affected by other forms of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is also directly responsible for increasing dependency costs among the elderly.
The LANIR team will develop a nanoscope technique that works by deploying infrared (IR) radiation as a source of detection. It would be able to see features as small as 70 nanometres in lateral dimension, which is comparable to the size of a virus. The LANIR prototype will allow direct imaging of the chemistry and the structure of very small 'buried' features, without having to destroy the surface of a cell or a material.
Infrared nanoscopy (IRN) is based on Infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRAS), which measures the IR absorption in a material by recording the IR light reflected by or transmitted through the sample. When an incident IR wavelength matches with the specific (vibrational) excitations of chemical bonds in the probed molecules or materials, the IR absorption increases resonantly. IR spectroscopy thus reveals characteristic signatures of the chemical structures and molecular species.
IRN's two main features are advanced laser techniques and spatio-temporal optical patterning. Chemical fingerprints of a sample can be imaged point by point at nanometre resolution by scanning over the pump-probe pattern on the sample.
CORDIS News spoke to Project Manager John Mulcahy from the Materials and Surface Science Institute at the University of Limerick, Ireland, the LANIR coordinating institution.
He comments on the project: 'The infrared nanoscope being developed in LANIR will provide tools for use as an early diagnostic device for Alzheimer's disease, which will allow timely intervention against the causes of reversible dementias, the start of therapies that can slow disease progression, the start of therapies that can potentiate the cognitive performance of patients by exploiting the non-complete impairment of their neuronal circuits, and the implementation of measures that reduce the effects of the co-morbidity associated with dementia.'
He also described how the nanoscope will help with the timely implementation by patients and their families of the measures necessary to solve problems related to the disease's progression.
John Mulcahy outlined how important EU funding is to the success of the project and the significance of the participation of the six SME partners for getting the table-top prototype to market: 'The transnational nature of FP7 Collaborative projects such as LANIR is particularly beneficial to bring together leading microscopists, spectroscopists and biologists under one umbrella beside industry leaders, to develop a new nanoscope and relevant applications of the nanoscope. FP7 funding leverages significant funding to bring this groundbreaking technique to a commercial reality in the shortest possible time. The specific emphasis on SMEs in FP7 projects has also been important to ensure participation from innovative and research and development (R&D)-oriented SMEs, and interfacing them with top-level expertise and infrastructure available in academic and public research bodies, in order to bring forward this groundbreaking technology. It would not have been possible to progress the technology otherwise.'
As well as the prototype, table-top, multimodal IRN, the project will also construct three research IR microscopes, which will routinely image at a resolution less than 1 000 nm in IR and less than 100 nm in visible light. These three research IR microscopes will be located in Limerick in Ireland, Bucharest in Romania and Genoa in Italy.
Mr Mulcahy says this ensures the benefits of high-end nanoscopy will be spread out across the whole of Europe, a feat he describes as 'impossible without FP7 funding'.
Source: Cordis
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