Good news on the Alzheimer’s research front; researchers in Australia have been able to fully restore memory in 75% of mice with Alzheimer’s, using a new approach.
The technique they used was non-invasive and involved ultrasound technology. Using this technique (specifically a particular type of narrowly focused ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound) they were able to clear out neurotoxic amyloid plaques that were the cause of the memory loss and cognitive function. Amyloid plaques are dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, a sticky type of protein that has a tendency to form plaques. As you can imagine, this is never good news for nerve cells of any kind! They really need to be left alone to transmit impulses, and plaques can only ever interfere with their work.
The sound waves opened up the blood-brain barrier for several hours, which was long enough for the brain to recover (the blood-brain barrier is a layer that normally protects the brain against infection). It stimulated the brain’s microglial cells (which are basically waste removal cells) to get busy and perform the heavy lifting. The elegance of this technique is that it is prompting the brain to self-heal, rather than force healing from the outside.
This promising research took place at the Queensland Brain Institute, and the results were published in Science Translational Medicine.
Excellent results, and no side-effects!
The treatment had no side-effects and did not damage any surrounding brain tissue. After the treatment, the mice performed normally on all memory tasks. The tasks involved negotiating a maze, seeing if they could recognise new objects, and remembering places they needed to avoid.
This is very promising news as the treatment could potentially be offered to humans with the disease, and moreover it’s a non-invasive and inexpensive option. Alzheimer’s accounts for somewhere in the region of 60-80% of dementia cases.
Jürgen Götz, one of the researchers on the team, said,
You can hear an interview with Dr. Götz in this short radio clip:
The team plans to continue tests, moving on to larger animals soon, and hopefully to launch human clinical trials starting in 2017. Alzheimer’s disease affects about 50 million people worldwide and has devastating effects, not just for the victims but for their relatives and friends.
It’s really heartening to be able to report a piece of such groundbreaking research.
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