Researchers are finding out if implanting a "pacemaker-like" device in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease could help to stop the condition in its tracks.
"Recent failures in Alzheimer's disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies," study researcher Dr. Paul B. Rosenberg, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
But "this is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically," he added. "It's a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging of the population."
The device, a deep brain stimulation implant that works by sending electrical charges to the brain at low voltages, was implanted into this first patient last month, and another Alzheimer's patient will have the device implanted this month. There will be around 40 people with Alzheimer's who will have the device implanted as part of the ADvance Study. Some will have the device turned on just two weeks after implantation, while others will have it turned on a year later; doctors will be blinded to which patients had the device turned on earlier or later.
A safety study was previously conducted with the implant in six people with Alzheimer's, during which researchers witnessed increased glucose metabolism levels in the patients. (Alzheimer's is known to be associated with a decrease in glucose metabolism levels.)
The approach is already used in some people with Parkinson's, and seems to have an effect in decreasing tremors and medication dosages among those patients, researchers noted.