Deep Brain Stimulation May Reverse Alzheimer's Damage

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The study on deep brain stimulation in Alzheimer’s patients was small but the findings were “huge,” according to Dr. Andres M. Lozano of the Toronto Western Hospital in Ontario. Results of the new study, presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting earlier in November, indicate that deep brain stimulation may reverse some of the brain damage associated with this most common form of dementia.

Deep brain stimulation may improve memory

Alzheimer’s disease is a reality for approximately 5.4 million people in the United States, and that number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050 and globally, an estimated 115 million people will have the disease. Despite the efforts of scientists and researchers around the world, as yet there is no cure nor an effective way to significantly slow progression of the disease.

Use of deep brain stimulation, which has been used successfully to reduce tremors and other symptoms in people who have Parkinson’s disease, has been shown to benefit a few patients who have early Alzheimer’s disease. A small study involving six patients provides the basis of the most current results.

Dr. Lozano and his colleagues administered electrical pulses to the part of the brain that transmits messages to and from the hippocampus, which is one of the first brain regions to shrink in Alzheimer’s disease. Damage to the hippocampus manifests as memory loss and disorientation.

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Electrodes were implanted into the brain of the six patients, and a tiny battery was placed under the skin near the collar bone, where it provided power to send 130 electrical pulses per second to the brain. Throughout the study, the patients participated in evaluations of their memory and thinking abilities.

In patients with Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus typically shrinks about 5% per year. However, after one year the hippocampus actually grew in two of the six patients: an increase of 5% in one patient and 8% in another. Cognitive function appeared to improve in these two patients as well.

In the other four patients, the hippocampus shrank, and no improvement in thinking skills was detected.

The use of deep brain stimulation is still in the early stages of development for Alzheimer’s patients, and experts are not sure how it works, although the results of animal studies indicate the stimulation may generate new brain cells as well as the production of proteins that lead to the formation of new connections between brain cells. Based on this “amazing finding,” according to Lozano, a larger, placebo-controlled trial is planned.

SOURCES:
Alzheimer’s Disease International
Daily Mail

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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