Scientists test ‘brain pacemaker’ on patients with Alzheimer’s
Deep brain stimulation has already helped hundreds of thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease to overcome symptoms of tremor, but its use in Alzheimer’s is still very experimental.health Updated: Jan 31, 2018 11:01 IST
Researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center are testing whether deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy, which has helped people with Parkinson’s disease, can check the progress of dementia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Douglas Scharre and colleagues at the university believe their approach, which targets the decision-making frontal lobe of the brain, might help patients keep their independence for longer, BBC reported.
LaVonne Moore, an 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease, has had electric wires implanted deep in her brain to stimulate areas involved with decision-making and problem-solving.
Unlike many long-term dementia patients, LaVonne can cook meals, dress herself and organise outings, the report said.
But it remains unclear whether the DBS therapy alone is responsible for her independence, the report added.
DBS has already helped hundreds of thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease to overcome symptoms of tremor, but its use in Alzheimer’s is still very experimental.
Only a small number of DBS studies have been done for Alzheimer’s and they have focused on stimulating brain regions governing memory, rather than judgement.
LaVonne’s brain pacemaker was implanted three-and-a-half years ago.
Since then, her husband Tom says her dementia has worsened, but more slowly than he had expected.
“LaVonne has had Alzheimer’s disease longer than anybody I know, and that sounds negative, but it’s really a positive thing because it shows that we’re doing something right,” he was quoted as saying by BBC.
Two other patients have had the same treatment as LaVonne, but only one of them appeared to benefit significantly, according to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Experts have said it is too early to say if the treatment will help counteract cognitive decline.
Neurosurgery expert Andres Lozano, who has been conducting his own DBS trials in Alzheimer’s patients in Canada, said: “We desperately need a novel treatment for Alzheimer’s.
“This may seem bold and aggressive to some, but it is promising. Studies so far show it is safe.
“We’ve got patients with Parkinson’s who have had these devices inside of them for 30 years with no problems. Although we are not talking about treating the Alzheimer’s degeneration, we can look at changing the downstream consequences by turning parts of the brain back on.”
Carol Routledge from Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “The study did not compare against a dummy treatment and so while signs of benefit are worthy of follow-up, the full benefits and cost-effectiveness of this treatment need much more robust investigation in larger trials.”
Deep brain stimulation involves permanently implanting very fine wires, with electrodes, into the brain under an anaesthetic. The wires are connected to a pulse generator or pacemaker under the skin of the chest wall.
The pacemaker delivers electric stimulation to the brain to improve function or reduce symptoms.