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Development of an innovative fiber to fight Alzheimer’s disease

Summary: Collaborative team develops neural fiber to fight Alzheimer’s disease. This high-priority NIH-funded project aims to create a minimally invasive fiber, capable of electrical stimulation and drug delivery, to study and potentially reverse memory loss.

The fiber will enable detailed imaging and analysis of amyloid deposits in the brain, a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease. With a one-year deadline, this ambitious project could revolutionize our approach to understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease.


  1. The neural fiber is designed for deep access to the brain, focusing on the hippocampus to study amyloid deposits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. The project combines electrical stimulation, drug delivery and dual-mode endoscopy in a single hair-thin fiber for a less invasive brain study.
  3. The team has 12 months to develop this innovative technology, which could significantly improve research and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: Virginia Tech

Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating form of dementia that affects 6.2 million Americans.

Although first identified nearly 120 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder for which there is no cure and few treatments. It begins with minor memory loss that, over time, progresses to mental decline so severe that individuals have difficulty even swallowing.

Xiaoting Jia, an associate professor in Bradley’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, experienced the direct and cruel impact of Alzheimer’s disease by ravaging her grandmother’s mind, destroying the memories of a long and loved life .

This is an AI representation of a brain.
The preform becomes thinner and thinner as it is pulled, creating the tube that houses different fibers or filaments. Credit: Neuroscience News

“Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating problem – I’ve seen firsthand how serious it can be,” Jia said. “That’s why it concerns me as an electrical engineer. I want to create tools and try to help neuroscientists solve brain problems.

It’s this personal connection that makes the National Institutes of Health’s short-term high-priority grant so poignant.

Building a new fiber

A pioneer in the field of neuronal fibers, Jia teamed up with longtime collaborator Harald Sontheimer, professor and chair of neuroscience at the University of Virginia, and fellow brain imaging expert Song Hu, associate professor in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, on the development of a new neural tool: a deep and versatile brain fiber.

Their objective? Slow or reverse memory loss.

Examples of previous preforms pulled through Xiaoting Jia’s thermal fiber drawing tower. The preform becomes thinner and thinner as it is pulled, creating the tube that houses different fibers or filaments. Photo by Ben Murphy for Virginia Tech.

“What we’re doing here together is creating a device with which we can visualize the accumulation of biomarkers that cause Alzheimer’s disease,” Sontheimer said. “Usually you can’t access and image this part of the brain, but this device will provide access to the hippocampus, the seat of spatial memory and retention.”

The team has a year to build a minimally invasive, long-term fiber — not much thicker than a strand of hair — to study these biomarkers, including thick deposits of proteins called amyloids in the hippocampus.

Current electrical and imaging tools used by neuroscientists are limited in resolution, both temporal and spatial, such as MRI or electroencephalogram. Some are more invasive with large electrodes that doctors must “fish” with to try to apply electrical stimulation to the deep brain.

“A big problem in Alzheimer’s disease research is that there are many brain dysfunctions linked to neurovascular changes,” Hu said, “but we don’t fully understand the impact of these changes on loss of memory and behaviors that ultimately harm life. Conventional techniques have provided important understanding of neurons and the vascular system, but there is a technological limitation.

The super fiber that Jia will build stands out from other existing technologies because of its flexible polymer platform. Little or no damage to brain tissue and long-term potential means fewer complicated surgeries and more time with family.

Defeat Deposits

“Amyloid deposits are the main hallmark of AD (Alzheimer’s disease) and they begin to develop years, even decades, before people show symptoms of AD,” Jia said. “How the deposits begin is still a mystery. »

According to Jia, there is not yet a confirmed causal relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and the deposits. However, the relationship between plaque buildup and symptom onset is the focus of the team’s research, with each researcher taking on a key element in the creation of this one-of-a-kind fiber:

  • Building on the expertise highlighted in his National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, Jia will thermally draw a multifunctional fiber for electrical stimulation and drug delivery, leaving a hollow core.
  • Within this core will be Hu’s dual-mode endoscope to capture two different types of images in the brain.
  • Sontheimer will develop “chronic” implantation of the combined fiber and monitor biocompatibility.

Xiaoting Jia presents an example of an integrated fiber that the team would use in their research. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

The team’s primary objective is to use the endoscope. It will provide images for the team to observe neuroactivity, the initial stages of amyloid deposition and blood flow in the vessels. The team will use this data to analyze the memory loss-amyloid relationship.

The second target involves sending electrical pulses – and later, anti-amyloid drugs – in hopes of restoring blood flow and oxygenation to dead neurons and restoring memory.

If this sounds complex, it is. And the team only has 12 months to develop and test two prototypes.

“It’s a very ambitious goal that we’re trying to achieve in one year,” Jia said. “The brain is very nuanced with more than 80 billion neurons, and we are still behind in our complete understanding of how it works and how diseases form.”

Achieving its goals will allow the fiber team to seek additional multi-year funding from the National Institutes of Health. The ultimate hope? Researchers will be able to prove that their technology has the potential to improve the quality of life of millions of Americans affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

About this research news on neurotechnologies and Alzheimer’s disease

Author: Chelsea Seeber
Source: Virginia Tech
Contact: Chelsea Seeber – Virginia Tech
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

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