University of Illinois researchers have conducted a study to evaluate the potential use of graphene in identifying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease.

The condition lacks a definitive diagnostic test and is commonly diagnosed by ruling out other disorders.

During the study, the researchers observed that vibrational characteristics of graphene changed in a unique manner when in contact with cerebrospinal fluid from ALS patients, compared to those with multiple sclerosis or no neurodegenerative disease.

“The team expects that an objective diagnostic test could enable early treatment to slow the disease.”

Findings showed that the unique changes accurately predicted if the cerebrospinal fluid was taken from ALS or MS or non-neurodegenerative disorder patient.

The team expects that an objective diagnostic test could enable early treatment to slow the disease.

UIC College of Engineering associate professor Vikas Berry said: “The electronic properties of graphene have been extensively studied, but only recently have we begun to examine its phononic properties as a way to detect diseases.

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“And it turns out that graphene is an extremely versatile and accurate detector of biosignatures of diseases found both in cerebrospinal fluids and whole cells.”

During the study, the researchers obtained cerebrospinal fluid samples from the Human Brain and Spinal Fluid Resource Center that banks fluid and tissue from deceased people.

Samples included fluid from 13 ALS patients, three people with multiple sclerosis, seven individuals without any neurodegenerative disease and three with an unknown neurodegenerative condition.

Apart from distinct changes in graphene’s phonon energies depending on the disease, the researchers were able to identify whether the fluid was taken from an ALS patient aged more than or younger than 55.

Berry added: “We were also able to determine whether the fluid was from someone over age 55 or younger than 55 when we tested cerebrospinal fluid from ALS patients.

“We think the difference we see between older and younger ALS patients is driven by unique biochemical signatures we are picking up that correlate to inherited ALS, which usually produces symptoms before age 55, and what’s known as sporadic ALS which occurs later in life.”

The team believes that the changes in graphene are based on unique biosignatures present in the cerebrospinal fluid of individuals with various diseases.