University of Central Florida Researchers Developing Sensors to Detect Parkinson’s Disease in Seconds

Dopamine detect sensors
Debashis Chanda, the principal investigator of the study holding their new sensor (Image credit: UCF)

Dopamine is a chemical that is believed to play a role in various diseases such as Parkinson’s, depression and some cancers. When Parkinson’ disease develops, the cells in the substantia nigra part of the brain begin to die. These cells produce dopamine and the loss of dopamine in the brain leads to issues with movement. Scientists at the University of South Florida (UCF) have developed the first rapid detector for dopamine, using nanotechnology.

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While too much dopamine could be associated with some cancers, low levels of dopamine could be associated with Parkinson’s disease and depression.   

Currently, the method to detect dopamine require specialized laboratory equipment, meticulous sample preparation, and takes long.

The new method developed at UCF requires only a few drops of blood, and results are available in minutes instead of hours because no separate lab is necessary to process the sample, reports UCF.

“A neurotransmitter like dopamine is an important chemical to monitor for our overall well-being so we can help screen out neural disorders like Parkinson’s disease, various brain cancers, and monitor mental health,” says Debashis Chanda, an associate professor in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center and the study’s principle investigator. “We need to monitor dopamine so that we can adjust our medical doses to help address those problems.”

UCF College of Sciences
UCF College of Sciences (Image: Wikimedia commons)

Plasma is separated from the blood within the chip. The sensor surface, coated with cerium oxide nanoparticles, selectively capture dopamine at microscopic levels from the plasma. This process subsequently changes how light is reflected from the sensor and creates an optical readout indicating the level of dopamine.

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Sudipta Seal, an engineering professor and chair of UCF’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, says the use of cerium oxide nanoparticles was an important part of the sensor’s success.

“Getting the sensor to be sensitive to dopamine had been quite the challenge for researchers for a while, but using altered cerium oxide nanostructures on the sensing platform was key in making the sensor work,” Seal says.

The new technology was described in a recent study in the journal Nano Letters.