Rapid dopamine detector shows brain disorders in seconds

Published: Jul. 11, 2019 at 4:12 PM EDT
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Dopamine is a chemical that plays a vital role in diseases like Parkinson's and depression. But monitoring a person's dopamine levels can be a cumbersome process that involves complicated MRI testing.

Now, a group of researchers believe they have found a quicker way.

Statistics show that by the year 2020, nearly 1 million people in the U.S. will have Parkinson's disease. It is a difficult disease to diagnose and monitor.

"Dopamine measurement plays an important role for people suffering from Parkinson's," University of Central Florida associate professor Dr. Debashis Chanda said.

Too little dopamine has been associated with Parkinson's and depression. But when it comes to detecting dopamine, it’s not the easiest thing to do.

"The traditional methods are very hard for people, because we have to send it to laboratories and they have to look at cultures and stuff like that, and that takes a lot of time," UCF undergraduate student Freya Mehta said.

Usually, it takes hours or even days. So, Chanda and his team developed the first ever rapid detector for dopamine. It only requires a few drops of blood, and it gives results in seconds.

Using a chip, plasma is separated from the blood.

"And then, when the plasma flows through that sodium oxide-coated nano structure surface, that dopamine selectively binds or gets captured by the surface," Chanda said.

Using an infrared light, researchers can measure how much dopamine is concentrated in the blood. This method can be very useful in determining whether a medication is effective.

"How do you adjust that person's medication depends on the dopamine level in the brain," Chanda said.

Chanda said this is just the first step in giving people the ability to monitor their own brain activity.

"Like the way you detect or monitor your blood sugar or blood glucose level," Chanda said.

Chanda's research team is also using the same technology to perform experiment to detect viruses like the dengue virus.




REPORT: MB #4606

BACKGROUND: Neurodegenerative diseases cause your brain and nerves to deteriorate over time. They can change your personality and cause confusion. They can also destroy your brain's tissue and nerves. Mental disorders, or mental illnesses, are a large and diverse group of conditions that affect your behavior patterns. Your primary care physician or a neurological specialist can diagnose a brain disorder. Your doctor will likely perform a neurological exam to check your vision, hearing, and balance. Your doctor may also get images of your brain to help them make a diagnosis. The most common diagnostic imaging tools are CT, MRI, and PET scans. Your doctor might also need to study fluid from your brain and spinal cord. This helps them find bleeding in the brain, infection, and other abnormalities. Mental health disorders are usually diagnosed based on an evaluation of your symptoms and history. (Source:

DIAGNOSING: In Parkinson's patients, medications may help you manage problems with walking, movement and tremor. These medications increase or substitute for dopamine. People with Parkinson's disease have low brain dopamine concentrations. However, dopamine can't be given directly, as it can't enter your brain. The annual costs incurred for PD in the United States have been estimated at nearly $11 billion, including $6.2 billion in direct costs. The largest proportion of costs incurred in PD occur in the later stages of the disease, when symptoms are at their most severe. Thus, from a purely economic standpoint, any strategy that would maintain PD symptoms in the earlier stages of the disease (ie, fewer and less severe) would likely prove substantially beneficial toward limiting expenditures. (Source: &

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Using nanotechnology, UCF researchers have developed the first rapid detector for dopamine, a chemical that is believed to play a role in various diseases such as Parkinson's, depression and some cancers. Plasma is separated from the blood within the chip. Cerium oxide nanoparticles, which coat the sensor surface, selectively capture dopamine at microscopic levels from the plasma. The capture of dopamine molecules subsequently changes how light is reflected from the sensor and creates an optical readout indicating the level of dopamine. (Source:

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