Korea’s smart lens technology could detect Alzheimer’s at early stages

The lens is inserted into the eye of the patient to detect the biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.
Kavita Verma
digital image of a magnifying lens looking at a brain
A look into the brain

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The KIMM (Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials) has developed South Korea's first smart lens technology to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The KIMM research team has worked on this project in collaboration with Yonsei University. 

The lens is Korea’s first intraocular smart lens technology that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. Bioactive Materials, a popular journal in the field of biomaterials, published the results of the research

The lens is inserted into the eye of the patient to detect the biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. The lens is also capable of detecting other neurological and degenerative brain diseases. In another research, it has been found that protein injections could help repair the heart muscle after a heart attack. 

Alzheimer’s disease affects over 50 million people throughout the world. Although it develops in the human body without visible symptoms over the years, a mild cognitive impairment usually precedes the illness. 

How researchers developed the technology?

The researchers studied the characteristics of the eye directly connected to the brain to discover these biomarkers. To do this, they developed a bio-sensing system using a bio-responsive module that can detect a range of biomarkers on an intraocular lens. By detecting the biomarkers, the system can express a signal in a special hydrogel pattern that contracts when reacted with the target biomarker. Scientists identify this pattern to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its early stages. 

Researchers identify the target biomarker by analyzing the changes in the moiré signal generated by overlapping the hydrogel pattern with the designated reference grid. The research team used a specific signal with greater sensitivity than other methods to detect changes in the hydrogel pattern. 

JaeJong Lee and Geehong Kim, the two main researchers working at the KIMM Nano-Manufacturing Technology Department, stated that developing this intraocular lens technology could help reduce social costs as it can diagnose various neurological illnesses, including Alzheimer's – the most common brain illness which can lead to various social issues. According to the researchers, the KIMM will continue to do deeper research on intraocular lens technology until it becomes possible to make it available for commercial use. 

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The research was a part of the development of freely formed surface nano-manufacturing processes, systems, and applications of non-blood illness monitoring devices. 

Biomarker: A Biomarker is an indicator to detect changes in the body using amino acids, DNA, etc.

Hydrogel: Hydrogel is a jelly-like material that contains water as the primary component. 

The KIMM (Korea Institute of Machinery And Materials) is a nonprofit government-funded research institute under the Ministry of Science and ICT. Since the foundation of KIMM in 1976, it has contributed to Korea's economic growth through research and development of key technologies in materials and machinery. KIMM also conducts reliability tests evaluation and commercializes the already developed technologies.