Deep Brain Stimulation 'Reverses' Alzheimer's
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ALZHEIMER'S: DEEP BRAIN STIMULATION 'REVERSES' DISEASE*
By James Gallagher
November 27, 2011
Original Link <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15890749>
Scientists in Canada have raised a tantalising prospect -- reversing
Brain shrinkage, declining function and memory loss had been thought to
They used a technique known as deep brain stimulation -- applying
electricity directly to regions of the brain. In two patients, the
brain's memory hub reversed its expected decline and actually grew.
Deep brain stimulation has been used in tens of thousands of patients
with Parkinson's as well as having an emerging role in Tourette's
Syndrome and depression.
Yet precisely how it works is still unknown.
The procedure is all done under a local anaesthetic. An MRI scan
identifies the target within the brain. The head is held in a fixed
position, a small region of the brain is exposed and thin electrodes are
positioned next to the region of the brain to be stimulated.
The electrodes are hooked up to a battery which is implanted under the
skin next to the collar bone.
Prof John Stein, from the University of Oxford, said: "Most people would
say we do not know why this works."
His theory is that in Parkinson's, brain cells become trapped in a
pattern of electrical bursts, followed by silences, then bursts and
silences and so on. Continuous high frequency stimulation then disrupts
the rhythm. However, he accepts that "not everyone will accept this
How deep brain stimulation could have a role in Alzheimer's is even more
of an unknown.
In Alzheimer's, the hippocampus is one of the first regions to shrink.
It is the memory hub converting short-term memory to long-term memory.
Damage leads to some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer's -- memory loss
By late stage Alzheimer's brain cells are dead or dying across the whole
of the brain.
The study at the University of Toronto took six patients with the
condition. Deep brain stimulation was applied to the fornix -- a part of
the brain which passes messages onto the hippocampus.
Lead researcher Prof Andres Lozano said you would expect the hippocampus
to shrink by five per cent on average in a year in patients with
After 12 months of stimulation, he said one patient had a five per cent
increase and another had an eight per cent increase.
"How big a deal is 8%? It is huge. We've never seen the hippocampus grow
in Alzheimer's under any circumstance. It was an amazing finding for
us," he told the BBC.
"This is the first time that brain stimulation in a human being has been
shown to grow an area of your brain.
When it came to the symptoms he said: "In one of the patients, he is
better after a year's stimulation than when he started, so his
Alzheimer's has reversed if you like."
The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference
in November but they have yet to be published in an academic journal.
Prof Lozano said experiments in animals showed that this kind of
stimulation could create new nerve cells.
Prof Stein said he was "very encouraged" by the early findings, but the
key would be showing "whether their memory improved".
"It is not unexpected that there might be some saviour of the brain
which is dying if you can keep it going," he added.
Dr Marie Janson, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said "it would be very
significant" if you could reverse brain shrinkage and that "if you could
delay the onset of Alzheimer's for five years you would halve the number
of people affected."
To test whether this is really working, rather than being a fluke
result, the researchers are going to perform a larger trial.
Prof Lozano says that for now: "a word of caution is appropriate, these
are very early days and a very small number of patients are involved."
Starting in April they are aiming to enrol around 50 patients with mild
Alzheimer's. All will be implanted with electrodes, but they will be
turned on in only half of them. The researchers will then see if there
is any difference in the hippocampus between the two groups.
They are specifically looking at patients with mild Alzheimer's because
of the six patients with the condition, it was only the two with the
mildest symptoms that improved.
One theory they are considering is that after a certain level of damage
patients reach a point of no return.
.Breakthrough Electromagnetic Device Reverses Alzheimer
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Published by David Sunfellow
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