Health and Medicine Technology

First Ever Sensor for Testing Vitamin B12 Deficiency Being Developed

vitamin b12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and current testing methods are costly and time consuming. Now researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed an optical sensor that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood – a world first. This is a first step towards creating a portable, low cost, broad scale vitamin B12 deficiency test. Such a device would allow the tracking of vitamin B12 levels in high-risk patients. Early intervention by topping up vitamin B12 levels when low would thus be possible.

Dr Georgios Tsiminis, a Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide explains that it has been shown that vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with cognitive decline, but it is a potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Due to age related reduction in absorbing vitamin B12 received through their diet, older patients are particularly at risk of B12 deficiency.

Tsiminis believes their sensor is an initial first step towards a point of care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in adults. This would allow doctors to intervene as soon as a B12 deficiency was detected. Although the sensor is still at the proof of concept stage, it could have wide reaching potential applications with further development.

Georgios Tsiminis working in his photonics laboratory. (Image credit: University of Adelaide)

The device can currently not be used in diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice. This is however the first time a fast technique based on optical spectroscopy has been proven to be able to detect vitamin B12 in human blood serum. Tsiminis’ team believes is very likely a first step towards achieving the goal of diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice.

The process of measuring B12 in human blood with an optical sensor requires minimum preparation and takes less than a minute. This is the first time that vitamin B12 can be measured in human blood serum without needing a full laboratory test.

An optical measuring technique called Raman spectroscopy is used by the sensor.  This process provides a unique optical fingerprint of a target molecule, in this case vitamin B12.

Tsiminis’ method works along the lines of the pinprick test for diabetes and it provides a realistic basis for a system that affords rapid results while at the same time being cost effective and portable.

Currently, time and cost limitations mean that frequent, regular B12 measurements are not performed. Such a device being available could make this testing routine, potentially having a real impact on the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.