What if you could treat Alzheimer’s disease by stimulating the neurons inside your brain directly?
The treatment would be much the same as for treating abnormal heartbeats, by using low-grade electrical stimulation in the brain.
Sound like far-fetched science fiction?
It may not be.
Researchers did some preliminary tests on this concept a few years ago, and the idea seems to be holding together.
Read on to discover how this treatment option is advancing, and if it could be a viable option for you or someone you love…
This breakthrough is NOT electro-shock therapy
Back in Issue #100 I first brought you the news that researchers were trying to treat Alzheimer’s disease with a method that had been used for Parkinson’s disease, chronic depression and epilepsy.
The procedure is known as deep brain stimulation (DBS). Researchers thought DBS might also work on Alzheimer’s patients, so they tested it on six people.
Each patient had tiny electrodes (similar to a cardiac pacemaker) surgically implanted in their nucleus basalis of Meynert (NBM), a group of neurons located near the brainstem important to mental capacity and learning.
The electrodes release low-level pulses to stimulate the neurons in the NBM.
The NBM is linked to a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, a neuromodulator that affects the way other brain structures process information. It’s also part of the brain’s electrical functioning.
The scientists hypothesized that pulses aimed directly at the NBM would give the circuitry a jump-start, helping it work again.
The results of this initial test were encouraging, so they moved into Phase 2 of testing.
Phase 2 of the brain pacemaker trial
The study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, delayed-start, multicenter clinical trial conducted at six sites in the US and one site in Canada. Very rigorous.
In this phase, the researchers tested DBS on the hippocampal fornix (DBSf), an area of the brain that controls memory.
The theory behind the study is the same: Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder of the memory circuit brought on by neuronal deterioration and stimulating the neurons helps them to become active again.(1)
Previous research suggests that stimulating this area of the brain can release memories of specific events as well improve the brain’s use of glucose.(2)
The brain’s inability to use glucose is one of hallmarks of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The 42 patients in the study all had early stage Alzheimer’s. The mean age of the participants was 68.2 years, and had the pacemaker-like stimulators implanted in the fornix.
They were studied for 12 months, with another 12 months of follow up.(3)
Results of the Phase 2 trial
The results of this Phase 2 trial were also very promising.
A few highlights of the results include:
- Patients who received DBSf had increased glucose metabolism by an average of 22% after one year.
- Patients in the placebo group declined in glucose metabolism by an average of 1.2%.
- On the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive-13 (ADAS-cog-13), which assess cognitive status, DBSf patients worsened by an average of 3.7.
- The placebo group worsened an average of 7.8 on the ADAS-cog-13.
- On the Clinical Dementia Rating Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB), used to assess both cognitive and functional performance, the DBSf patients’ worsening was 2.1.
- The placebo group worsened at 3.5 on the CDR-SB.
- The surgery and brain stimulation were well tolerated and within an acceptable safety range.(4)
The researchers are moving onto Phase 3 of these trials. If all goes well there, we may have a viable way to greatly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
When caught in the early stages, the brain pacemaker could allow people to live a normal life for many years… without drugs.
And give them time to adjust their diet and lifestyle to reduce inflammation and boost brain health.
Perhaps this combination would be enough to slow the devastating effects of this disease to a standstill.
Only time will tell.
- A stimulating approach to Alzheimer’s. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/publications/doorways_to_discovery/doorways_to_discovery_2015/a_stimulating_approach_to_alzheimers
- Memory enhancement induced by hypothalamic/fornix deep brain stimulation. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.21295/abstract?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=
- Deep brain stimulation targeting the fornix for mild Alzheimer dementia: Design of the ADvance randomized controlled trial. https://jhu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/deep-brain-stimulation-targeting-the-fornix-for-mild-alzheimer-de-4
- Deep brain stimulation of the fornix (DBSf) shows promise as treatment for patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. http://www.fxneuromod.com/news/20151106.php