Just how prevalent are vitamin B12 deficiencies anyway?

Researchers from the University of Adelaide say they have developed the first optical sensor that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood. This would be the first step towards a portable and affordable vitamin B12 deficiency test.

B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The device would enable doctors to measure B12 levels in high-risk patients and make early intervention possible.

The researchers say that the sensor, which is still at proof-of-concept stage, could help overcome the limitations of current testing methods, which are time-consuming and costly. It uses an optical measuring technique called Raman spectroscopy which produces a unique optical fingerprint of a target molecule, in this case vitamin B12.

Dr. Georgios Tsiminis, a Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, said: ‘Vitamin B12 deficiency has been shown to be a potential modifiable risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with cognitive decline. Older adults are particularly at risk of B12 deficiency due to age-related reduction in absorbing vitamin B12 received through their diet.’

‘Our sensor is an early first step towards a point-of-care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in healthy aging adults. This would allow doctors to monitor B12 levels and intervene as soon as B12 deficiency was detected.’

‘Currently our device could not aid in diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice setting. However, this is the first time a rapid technique based on optical spectroscopy has been shown to be able to detect vitamin B12 in human blood serum. We believe this is a very promising first step towards achieving this goal.’  

‘Our method provides a realistic basis for a system that is portable, cost-effective, and affords rapid results, along the lines of the pin-prick test for diabetes.’

‘Time and cost limitations currently mean that regular and frequent B12 measurements are not being carried out. Having such a device could make this testing routine, potentially having a real impact on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.’

Instant analysis

This is a provisional press release on progress made at the University of Adelaide on developing a sensor that eventually, they hope will be able to detect B12 levels in the blood using an optical sensor. The aim for the researchers is the potential for a sensor that will be able to detect B12 levels, likely in a finger prick test.

The team feel that this is something that should be tested for and assessed in patients; particularly those of advanced age and therefore prone to having an implication on their neuro-cognition as a result of having a missed deficiency that may need address.

Currently, it is at a proof of concept level.

Looking at the work however, I would suggest that B12 deficiency is not especially prevalent within practice, and perhaps in at risk groups like the elderly and maybe vulnerable adults, it might offer an easier way to sample B12 levels where usually they would require blood to be drawn. However, as the investigations are at prototype stage, I am not entirely sure whether the function of the sensor has a significant clinical need.

Research rating 1/5