Friday, December 07, 2012

Brain Implant for Alzheimer's Treatment

Johns Hopkins researchers are implanting electronic "pacemaker" devices in the brain fornix -- the nerve input to the hippocampus -- in Alzheimer's patients. This study is a follow-on to an earlier Canadian study which showed promising results for such a procedure.
The surgery involves drilling holes into the skull to implant wires into the fornix on either side of the brain. The fornix is a brain pathway instrumental in bringing information to the hippocampus, the portion of the brain where learning begins and memories are made, and where the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear to arise. The wires are attached to a pacemaker-like device, the "stimulator," which generates tiny electrical impulses into the brain 130 times a second. The patients don’t feel the current, Rosenberg says.

For the trial, all of the patients will be implanted with the devices. Half will have their stimulators turned on two weeks after surgery, while the other half will have their stimulators turned on after one year. Neither the patients nor the doctors treating them will know which group gets an early or later start.

"Deep brain stimulation might prove to be a useful mechanism for treating Alzheimer’s disease, or it might help us develop less invasive treatments based on the same mechanism," Rosenberg says.

By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may triple, experts say, from 5.2 million to a projected 11 million to 16 million, unless effective treatments are found. _Johns Hopkins _via_ ExtremeLongevity
The actual deficit in Alzheimer's involves multiple breakdowns in both neural pathways and processing centres of the brain. A "brain pacemaker" which keeps the hippocampus primed and healthy, should help tremendously in the early and middle stages of the disease. It may even prolong the early and middle stages -- postponing the final decline of mental function.

But to actually cure Alzheimer's disease, scientists will need to understand the underlying processes and predispositions much more clearly.

In the meantime, any route to improvement and mitigation is likely to be welcome, by most sufferers and their families.


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