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Brain Pacemaker to Treat Alzheimer’s

Deep-brain stimulation is a technique that is already being used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  It’s also being tested with other disorders, such as obesity.  And now, researchers are beginning to investigate its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

The technique involves implanting electrodes into different parts of the person’s brain, depending on the desired results.  In this trial, a pacemaker-like device is implanted into the brains of individuals with mild Alzheimer’s.  Electrical shocks are delivered to the brain in an effort to stimulate impaired neural networks.  The trial was initiated by Toront0-based Functional Neuromodulation, but other participants include Johns Hopkins Memory and Treatment Center.

To date, six patients have been included in the trial.  After a year of constant stimulation, the patients’ brains showed slightly increased consumption of glucose in areas of the brain governing memory and learning, when given PET scans.  (This is seen as a sign of increased neural activity, and generally shows a decrease in Alzheimer’s patients.)

The study is still on-going, and continues to recruit new participants.  Researchers hope to track patients through observation and brain scans, as the implanted devices are turned on or off for an entire year.  It is hoped that the electrical shocks could stimulate critical neural networks that have been disrupted by Alzheimer’s.  Even if the technique yields the desired results, scientists warn that it is unlikely to cure the disease, as it doesn’t address the underlying causal factors involved.  It may, however, slow the brain’s deterioration and its cognitive and physical concomitants.  But, even if the technology provides symptom relief and an improved quality of life and increased lifespan, it will undoubtedly be welcomed by many.

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