ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s a dream come true for Igor Lednev, a chemist and distinguished professor at University at Albany, to get federal support in developing technology for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Now, I really have a unique opportunity to give back to society and develop something which many people can potentially benefit from,” Lednev told NEWS10 during a visit to his laboratory.

At Lednev’s laser spectroscopy lab in the RNA Institute, he and his team develop new instruments for various applications, including forensic science and medical diagnostics.

“We collect and analyze scattered photons, and we get very detailed information about chemical or biochemical composition of the sample,” he explained.

Lednev showed us what is essentially a desktop version of what he wants to make into the size of a cell phone for the commercialized Alzheimer’s screening tool.

“What we need is a small drop of blood or a small drop of saliva,” Lednev said. “That’s all we need for analysis.”

The analysis potentially includes contribution from multiple biomarkers, which makes it much more sensitive and selective. Lednev’s preliminary research has shown that this technology can differentiate the biochemical composition of saliva from Alzheimer’s patients and healthy individuals, as well as determine the stage of the disease. 

Early Alzheimer’s Diagnostics LLC, his start-up company cofounded with his son Alex, received a highly competitive one-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant of $274,713 to support a Phase I proof-of-concept.

“After [the] first year, we will apply for Phase II, which will focus on development of a working prototype,” Lednev added.

The plan is for Lednev’s prototype to become a commercialized tool for use in hospitals. The process could take several years. He’s grateful to be doing this work at UAlbany’s RNA Institute.

“This is the reason we are successful with our research,” he said.

Beth Smith-Boivin, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter, released the following statement in response to the news of funding for Lednev’s technology development:

“It is so exciting to see research and development right in our backyard for a potentially powerful tool to help diagnose the devastating, memory-robbing disease, which afflicts 410,000 New Yorkers. A simple, affordable, non-invasive test could transform the way Alzheimer’s is researched, diagnosed and treated. It is just a matter of time before these early diagnostic tests – whether through blood or saliva – are more widely adopted, providing clarity for a disease that is notoriously difficult to diagnose and help determine which patients should get new treatments. We know brain abnormalities develop 10 to 20 years before symptoms emerge, so these early diagnostic tests could alert individuals to their risks and allow them to take steps to delay or potentially prevent the disease. Furthermore, an early and accurate diagnosis enables individuals to participate in innovative clinical trials. Timing-wise, this test is emerging just as a major development in treatment is coming into play. Earlier this month, data confirmed a drug called lecanemab slowed cognitive and functional decline in those in the earliest stages of the disease. It has generated significant enthusiasm among Alzheimer’s researchers due to the strength of its results. If there is any treatment that clearly demonstrates a clinical benefit and it is covered by Medicare and private insurance, demand for these early diagnostic tests could skyrocket.”

Beth Smith-Boivin, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York