An Israeli researcher has patented a way of using a patient’s tears to diagnose Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s – the two most common neurodegenerative diseases in the world – in their pre-symptom stages.
Early detection is crucial for both diseases, however, as treatments to slow the progression of both are more successful the sooner they are administered.
Current diagnosis for both diseases relies on a review of a patient’s medical history, neurological and physical examinations, cognitive and functional assessments and brain imaging.
Aviv Mesika, a graduate student at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Medicine, says his LacriScan diagnosis test uses tears, which are both easily accessible and intrinsically linked to the central nervous system.
Because of these two factors, “we can identify a component in the tears that reflects processes in the brain, and in the early stages before the patient with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s develops clinical symptoms,” Mesika tells NoCamels.
While there is currently no cure for the diseases, swift detection can allow for more effective management of them, he says. And by improving the treatment, so too can they improve the quality of life of the patient and the family.
“Therapy in late stages is ineffective,” he says.
The diagnostic process itself is based on the commonly used Schirmer Test that monitors tear production, which involves inserting a paper strip inside the lower eyelid to gather the fluid.
Once collected, the tears undergo Mesika’s patented analysis, looking for biochemical markers (hallmarks) of the two diseases. The two ailments, he explains, “have a shared identity.”
This shared identity can also manifest in similar symptoms, such as cognitive decline (although this is more commonly associated with Alzheimer’s), reduced coordination, sleep disruption, memory loss and psychotic indicators like delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations.
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Mesika was already working with the use of tears as a diagnosis tool during his research into a rare genetic disorder called NGLY1 deficiency, which has less than 100 cases worldwide, but five instances in the same family in northern Israel. And one of the symptoms of NGLY1 deficiency is alacrima, or abnormal tear production.
At this point, he says, he was inspired to develop the same method of gathering tears to test for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, given the close connection between tears and brain functioning. Mesika’s innovative diagnostic process was developed under the supervision of Prof. Tzipora Falik-Zaccai and Dr. Golan Nadav of Bar-Ilan University.
While similar tests for neurological diseases using tears have already been developed, Mesika says that his method differs in two ways: a more sensitive test response and analysis that looks for multiple brain chemical markers of the two diseases.
Mesika was one of a handful of outstanding medical students to be selected for the 2023 National BioInnovators scholarship run by Israeli pharma giant Teva. The program, which includes a $10,000 grant and mentoring from industry leaders, was this year awarded to doctoral students and post-doctoral trainees whose research focused on brain disorders.
The objective of the program, which began in 2020, is to teach its participants to transform their ideas into viable, innovative businesses that solve a medical issue. Mesika’s test has already landed him a spot among the final 10 candidates in the students’ R&D competition and he hopes to claim first place.
The test is still very much in the initial stages of development, and Mesika says there are still some outstanding questions that he must answer, such as how early in the development of the disease the test can successfully diagnose patients. Clinical trials, he says, will be carried out in collaboration with medical centers in Israel.
Mesika envisions his test as becoming a commonly used weapon in the arsenal to battle both Alzheimer’s and Parkison’s.
“The idea is to develop a non-invasive screening test for early identification of a predisposition,” he says. “It could be like the screening test for breast cancer or colorectal cancer.”