HEXITEC Case Study

In this case study we describe how HEXITEC has been used by a collaboration between the The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and University of Maryland (UMD) to develop a technique that has the potential to detect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the U.S. federal government [1]. It is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the control and supervision of key areas including food safety, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices. In 2011, the University of Maryland (UMD) created a new Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), funded by an initial $1 million grant from the FDA [2]. The centre aims to focus on modernising and improving the ways drugs and medical devices are reviewed and evaluated.

To this aim BIOE adjunct professor Aldo Badano, collaborating with BIOE alumnus Eshan Dahal and a group of UMD and FDA researchers, sought to improve the measurement of amyloid burden in the brain with their ultimate goal to advance understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease [3].

Understood to be the most common cause of dementia [4], Alzheimer’s Disease can affect memory, thinking skills and other mental faculties. The risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia increases with age, affecting an estimated 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in every 6 people over the age of 80 in the UK. As such, finding a way to detect the early onset of the disease could have major implications in the health of ageing populations around the world.


The presence of amyloid plaques in the brain has been associated with a wide range of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s Disease. Amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s Disease are formed by aggregation of amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides into fibrils which deposit between brain cells, impairing their function. To date, measurement of the build-up of these plaques is costly, inaccurate, and typically involves the use of radio labelled compounds, which carry their own health risks. The new technique, which may prove to be a viable alternative to current practice, was first described in a paper published in 2020 [5]. It applies the novel HEXITEC hyper-spectral detector to the small-angle x-ray scattering technique (SAXS) resulting in a new tool: spectral small-angle x-ray scattering (sSAXS).

SAXS is a technique that relies on the scattering of monochromatic x-rays as they pass through a material. The resulting interference pattern of the scattered light can be used to derive the structure of the material, or confirm the presence of a particular species in a sample. Spectral Small Angle X-ray Scattering (sSAXS) dispenses with the requirement for a monochromatic source of X-rays, employing a wide range of X-ray energies from a polychromatic source. Removing the requirement for a monochromatic beam means that, typically polychromatic, lab-based sources can be put to more effective use.

A more detailed discussion of this new technique can be found in our sSAXS application note here: Small Angle X ray Scattering | Quantum Detectors.

Armed with a new tool that relies solely on a compact X-ray detector and lab-based X-ray source, the team hope that one day clinicians will be able to use it to assess how a patient’s Alzheimer’s disease has progressed by conducting an in-office scan of the brain that would take only a few minutes. In the meantime it may help researchers around the world to more easily study the nature of amyloid deposition and it’s role in the progression of this endemic disease.


[1] U.S. Food and Drug Administration

[2] Fischell Department of Bioengineering

[3] Researchers Aim to Advance Understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease Progression

[4] Alzheimer’s disease

[5] Dahal, E., Ghammraoui, B., Ye, M. et al. Label-free X-ray estimation of brain amyloid burden. Sci Rep 10, 20505 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77554-5


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