New optical sensor for vitamin B12 deficiency

Measuring Vitamin B12 levels in human blood, a vitamin whose deficiency has been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer and dementia, has not been easy. Therefore, the pioneering research conducted by researchers at the University of Adelaide bears glad tidings for those at a high-risk of these diseases.

Researchers of the university have developed a novel optical sensor which can detect levels of Vitamin B12 in human blood. The device will enable tracking of the vitamin levels in high-risk patients and ensure early intervention by increasing Vitamin B12 levels when low. The research is a pivotal step towards a low-cost, convenient and large-scaled test for Vitamin B12, which could assist in overcoming the limitations of the time-consuming and costly prevailing testing methods.

The scientists have submitted their findings at an international bio-photonics (a branch of science that analyses biological material using optical technologies) conference (SPIE BioPhotonics Australasia) held in Adelaide.

While presenting their research, Dr Georgios Tsiminis, a research fellow at the University of Adelaide, claimed that the sensor developed was the first step towards measuring and tracking Vitamin B12 levels in healthy elderly men and women. He said that Vitamin B12 deficiency had a risk factor which could potentially result in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and lead to decline of cognitive abilities. “The elderly population is at a higher risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency because the body’s capacity to absorb the vitamin through diet declines with age,” he commented. However, he maintained that the sensor was still at the proof-of-concept stage, but would have far-reaching applications once fully developed.

“Currently our device could not aid in diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice setting,” says Dr Tsiminis. “However, this is the first time a rapid technique based on optical spectroscopy has been shown to be able to detect vitamin B12 in human blood serum. We believe this is a very promising first step towards achieving this goal.”

The sensor is able to measure the levels of Vitamin B12 in human blood in less than a minute’s time, and barely requires any prior preparation. It was the first time that measurement of Vitamin B12 in human blood serum was demonstrated without a full laboratory test. The device is based on an optical measuring technique called ‘Raman spectroscopy’ that leaves a unique optical fingerprint on the vitamin B12 molecule.

The researchers claimed that this method could be developed into a portable and economic Vitamin B12 sensor, akin to a pinprick test used by patients of diabetes. They added that regular B12 measurement tests could not be carried out so far due to the limitation of cost and time. With the senor fully developed, researchers believed they could make the testing a routine that could help on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

More information can be found at: The University of Adelaide.

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