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Diagnosing Brain Disorders With a Simple, Fast Blood Test

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 one 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," said Debashis Chanda, Ph.D. Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida.

Too little dopamine has been associated with Parkinson's and depression, but detecting dopamine takes time.

"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," Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate student, Freya Mehta said.

The results can usually take hours or even days. So Professor 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 this 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," said Dr. Chanda.

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," Dr. Chanda explained.

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

Professor Chanda's research team is also using the same technology to perform experiments to detect for viruses, like the Dengue virus.

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