The 'pacemaker' implanted in the brain to prevent Alzheimer's patients losing their memory
Device already used in people with Parkinson’s disease as possible means reversing cognitive declineEarly trials show the device appears to keep brain neurons activeHigh hopes will be viable alternative to drug treatments
17:13 GMT, 5 December 2012
17:54 GMT, 5 December 2012
A ‘pacemaker’ has been implanted in to the brain of an Alzheimer's patient in a bid to reduce memory loss.
The device, which uses deep brain stimulation, has already been used in thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease as possible means of boosting memory and reversing cognitive decline.
Now the first patient in the US has undergone the delicate surgery to try and halt the effects of dementia, which lowly robs its mostly elderly victims of a lifetime of memories and the ability to perform the simplest of daily tasks.
A diseased brain- showing the effects of dementia. The new device appears to keep brain neurons active and help prevent cognitive decline
Instead of focusing on drug treatments, many of which have failed in recent clinical trials, the researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are looking at the use of the low-voltage electrical charges delivered directly to the brain.
As part of a preliminary safety study in 2010, the devices were implanted in six Alzheimer’s patients in Canada.
The trial showed that patients with mild forms of the disorder showed sustained increases in glucose metabolism – an indicator that brain neurons are working – over a 13-month period. Most Alzheimer’s disease patients show decreases in glucose metabolism over the same period.
Paul B. Rosenberg, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said: 'Recent failures in Alzheimer’s disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the build-up of “plaques” in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies.
'This is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically. It’s a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging of the population.'
Some 40 dementia patients in the US are expected to receive the deep brain stimulation implant over the next year (posed by model)
Some 40 patients are expected to receive the deep brain stimulation implant over the next year or so at Johns Hopkins and four other institutions in the U.S.
The procedure 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, said Dr Rosenberg.
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,' said Dr Rosenberg.
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.