LumeNeuro: Pioneering Early and Affordable Detection of Neurodegenerative Diseases

LumeNeuro is gaining widespread attention across the world! The Alzheimer’s Association and MATTER (a premier healthcare incubator and innovation hub) started an annual pitch competition a couple of years ago – a place where startups and entrepreneurs compete to showcase their solutions, this year for increasing access to quality, person-centered care for underserved people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

For this pitch that took place on March 19, 2024 – five finalists were selected from a total of 35 submissions across 10 different countries. The only Canadian finalist is LumeNeuro, a startup created by our very own Professor Melanie Campbell in the Department of Physics & Astronomy and spun out with the University of Waterloo. We are excited that Campbell’s work is being featured on this international platform and congratulate her and LumeNeuro for receiving 2nd place!

LumeNeuro Optical Imaging LogoWhat LumeNeuro aims to do is commercialize the technology and instrumentation developed by Campbell for use in detecting proteins in the retina of the eye which act as biomarkers for several types of neurodegenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. LumeNeuro’s patented medical device can detect these proteins without any dye, long before symptoms occur – a solution that allows underserved people and telemedicine centres an accurate way to screen and monitor disease progression and streamline referrals to specialists.

As with most founding stories, a series of events had to happen for LumeNeuro to exist. Campbell has spent her career researching the optical properties of the eye through advanced optical and eye-imaging systems for applications in treatment and diagnosis; including, the detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease through the eye. But what is Alzheimer’s disease and how can it be diagnosed? Most of us know that Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain and causes significant memory loss and progressive cognitive decline. At the molecular and cellular levels, there are multiple factors that cause this degeneration of neuronal cells – one of which are amyloid plaques. A key hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of abnormal protein aggregates known as amyloid-beta (Aβ) plaques and their precursors which impair communication between neurons. These plaques are formed by the misfolding and aggregation of Aβ proteins. Detecting the presence of amyloid early on in Alzheimer’s would help track disease progression.

When Campbell first started this solve this problem, she revisited the concept of the layers of neurons in the retina as an extension of the brain. Thus, she expected amyloid-beta deposits in these retinal layers as a biomarker of amyloid beta in the brain. She started her work with post-mortem retinas donated by patients with Alzheimer’s disease (diagnosed by a pathologist). Campbell found that with standard dyes, she was able to find amyloid beta deposits in the retina and was among the very first in the world to confirm this. She then realized that one could image these deposits using polarized light without a dye – making the procedure non-invasive and non-toxic.

This led to Campbell’s development of a patented polarized light method that can detect retinal protein deposits in neuronal cell layers and blood vessels. With her research, she has shown that the number of deposits of amyloid beta deposits in the retina directly correlates with the severity of amyloid beta in the brain – a severity marker that a physician or neurologist could then use to diagnose and track the severity or progression of Alzheimer’s disease in a given patient. diagnosis. Since then, Campbell’s group has shown that polarized light can work by building a microscope to prove the technology. On top of that, she has shown that her technique can be used to detect, in the retina, two other types of proteins linked to neurodegenerative diseases: alpha-synuclein or α-synuclein which is a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease as well as Lewy body dementia; and TDP-43 which is the pathological protein in ALS and in frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), a large group of disorders that includes frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Right now, Campbell’s group is the farthest along in using the deposits to predict the severity and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Her instrumentation measures the optical properties from the interaction of polarized light with the retina; In addition, her students have used machine learning methods to separate the deposits for each disease-causing protein. The beauty of this technique is that it can separate deposits, because in many cases, people are diagnosed with more than one brain disease, and it becomes prudent to be able to detect multiple protein deposits so that one can track the progression of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other co-occurring diseases. With an 80% accuracy in separating two different protein deposit types, Campbell is at the forefront of the race to accurately detect and diagnose the progression of neurodegenerative diseases as whole, versus the norm of saying “you have a neurodegenerative disease, and it’s most likely Alzheimer’s disease”.

The next phase for Campbell and LumeNeuro is to test live eyes. She is currently working with an ophthalmic instrumentation manufacturer to modify existing instrumentation to contain her technology.