A new laser headband, developed by scientists at the VA Medical Center, Massachusetts may help doctors identify the tangled proteins in brain tissue associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Currently, Alzheimer's detection is entirely based on symptoms such as memory loss and the structures could be identified only by dissecting the brain after death.
The new non-invasive technique involves strapping lasers to a person's head and flashing low-energy, near-infrared light onto their skull.
This produces a spectrum of reflections that can differentiate healthy brain tissue from those with the microscopic protein plaques and tangles indicative of Alzheimer's.
"It could potentially provide an immediate answer and so would be valuable not only as a diagnostic, but also as a screening tool," New Scientist quoted Eugene Hanlon, from the VA Medical Centre, Massachusetts, US,
His team has recently started laser trials on humans.
Researchers hope that the new diagnostic tool would help in exploring different avenues and developing more effective treatments.
Hanlon believes that his new technique called near-infrared spectroscopy would be simple and cheap and that if the trials on humans go well, it could reach clinics within five years.
Michael Weiner, a neuroscientist at the VA Medical Centre in San Francisco, of Hanlon's lab says that the results are fascinating, however believes that getting the technique to work in humans could be difficult
"The light has to be transmitted through the skin and skull, and reflected back, and there are problems of motion, and flowing blood to be dealt with," he said.
He added that simply spotting plaques in a person's brain does not necessarily mean they have Alzheimer's, Weiner. Many healthy elderly people have plaques, yet no sign of disease, so diagnosis may not ever be reduced to a single test.
The study appears in journal Optics Letters.