Brain pacemaker delivers constant stimulation for Alzheimer's patients

An implant that delivers electrical stimulation could help improve the memory of Alzheimer's patients by stimulating the neural networks disrupted by the disease.

Once implanted into the brain, a pacemaker-like device delivering electrical stimulation could help improve the memory of Alzheimer’s patients. Technology Review reports.

Using electrodes, deep-brain stimulation is already used to treat patients with Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this Alzheimer’s trial, co-chaired by Constantine Lyketsos of Johns Hopkins, the device was placed into a region of the brain involved in learning and memory.

In Alzheimer’s patients, brain tissue atrophies and the reduction of memory and thinking skills increase over time. According to the Johns Hopkins team, electrical shocks could stimulate critical neural networks disrupted by the disease.

Multiple recent trials for potential Alzheimer’s drugs have failed to halt or stave off cognitive decline.

Now, in a pilot study with these deep-brain stimulators, after one year of constant stimulation, brain scans from six Alzheimer’s patients showed signs of increased neuron activity in areas involving learning and memory. However, it might be unlikely to actually reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers are recruiting patients into the new trial initiated by Toronto-based Functional Neuromodulation. The trial will track patients who have the device for a year using doctor observations and brain scans.

[Via Technology Review]

Image: Functional Neuromodulation

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