How Ultrasound Could Stop Alzheimer's Disease
Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) report they have found how ultrasound could stop Alzheimer’s disease. Thus far this finding has been observed in a mouse only, but future studies in sheep and humans are planned.
The expert team used ultrasound to remove amyloid-beta peptide (aka amyloid-B or amyloid plaque) from the brain of a mouse that had the plaque deposits and displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid plaque is believed to be involved in the development and progression of the disease.
More specifically, amyloid plaque accumulates in the brain and causes the nerve cells to stop working. Over time, these neurons no longer connect with other nerve cells and die, resulting in memory loss, changes in personality, and an inability to perform everyday activities.
Thus far, there are no effective ways to remove this brain-damaging plaque, although a number of drugs have been tried. This new approach does not require the use of drugs and is completely noninvasive.
The researchers used multiple iterations of scanning ultrasound on the mouse’s brain, and the high-frequency sound waves activated the microglial cells, which in turn digested the amyloid beta plaques. The ultrasound causes only a temporary opening past the blood-brain barrier, so its protective role is quickly restored following the clearing of the plaque.
According to Professor Jurgen Gotz, founding director and researcher at UQ’s Brain Institute, the ultrasound process resulted in restoration of memory function to the “same level of normal healthy mice.”
Why this finding is important
As the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to reach about 115 million by 2050, the tremendous financial and caregiver burden on the healthcare system in hospitals and nursing and the impact on families is overwhelming. Gotz noted that this new ultrasound technique “really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”
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Leinenga G, Gotz J. Scanning ultrasound removes amyloid-B and restores memory in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Science Translational Medicine2015; 7:278ra33