Dave Wagner.jpg

Dave Wagner, founder of Inspired Medical Life, see early Alzheimer's disease detection potential in a device in development at the Le Sueur company. Photo courtesy of David Wagner

LE SUEUR — A Le Sueur company is nearing initial clinical trials to test whether its device in development could detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier.

David Wagner, who founded Inspired Medical Life, and his team have been working on the device for years. Wagner's Inspired Technologies previously developed FrogTape, a masking tape meant to prevent paint leakage.

The Alzheimer’s device is designed to test someone’s sense of smell, as declining olfactory function is considered an early sign of Alzheimer’s. Detecting the disease earlier, Wagner said, would open up a host of treatment opportunities for patients.

“By correctly identifying the disease with high accuracy early on, there are a number of promising drugs that work quite well on the early side, but unfortunately people aren’t receiving them until they’re too far gone,” he said.

Studies suggest patients with low olfactory function are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It was found to be even more likely if the person with low olfactory function wasn’t aware of it.

But the symptom is frequently overlooked by doctors and patients, according to research published in a 2016 edition of the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment medical journal.

“Only 6% of (Alzheimer’s disease) patients complained of decline in olfactory function during the early stage of the disease, but 90% of AD patients demonstrated a significant impairment of olfactory function in an olfactory test,” the researchers wrote.

Wagner sees potential in the device as a non-invasive, inexpensive way to administer these olfactory tests. The test would use small concentrations of essential oils in each nostril to gauge olfactory function.

Past research suggests early stage Alzheimer’s degrades a person's ability to smell out of their left nostril faster than their right one. The device would essentially sniff out any discrepancies between left and right nostril function.

The clinical trial will be limited initially, including 35 people in the Twin Cities area. Wagner expected it to begin by the end of this year with a more expansive trial to follow.

The idea for the device came about because of FrogTape. A painter who Wagner sent the tape to years earlier for testing contacted him about obtaining the canisters holding the product.

The man, Greg Mills, went on to tell Wagner he’d lost family members to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and thought the canisters could have other useful applications. Wagner brought him in for further discussion, saw what he'd been working on and ended up obtaining the initial technology while keeping Mills on a retainer.

Like Mills, Wagner has seen dementia’s effects up close. His mother has Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia behind Alzheimer’s, while his father-in-law lived with him in hospice before dying of Parkinson’s last year.

“It’s painful to watch somebody you love who’s still alive but they really don’t know where they are, who they are or what they’re doing,” Wagner said of his experience with the diseases.

With no cure yet, identifying Alzheimer’s sooner wouldn’t prevent the disease. What early detection would do, said Sandi Lubrant, team lead for Mankato and North Mankato ACT on Alzheimer’s, is buy more time to make lifestyle changes and seek clinical trials and new treatment options. All could help lessen the disease’s progression and symptoms.

The person experiencing dementia could also better weigh in on their care if caught earlier, which isn’t always possible in later stages of dementia, Lubrant said.

“It can help people really have a voice in their care the earlier they’re diagnosed,” she said.

She reacted enthusiastically when told a company in the region was developing a potentially helpful product for the Alzheimer’s community. Research into the issue has blown up nationwide, she said, calling it an encouraging development for families dealing with the illness.

“We haven’t heard the news we want to hear yet, but to have so many people trying new things and looking at tools … it gives me hope,” she said.

The Le Sueur company had four patents related to the device issued already with five more pending. Wagner’s company isn’t alone either, as he noted leading research facilities are filing patents within the same scope.

He looks at 2020 as a realistic timeline for the Inspired Medical Life device to make its way to the market. The trials will be significant strides toward that goal.

“You have to come at it from an early phase, so I think we’re at the cutting edge,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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