Researchers in Australia studying the effects of ultrasound technology on Alzheimer’s in mice may have found a way to clear the brain of the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that cause memory loss and reduced cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.
Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are lesions that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients; while amyloid plaques are made up of protein that clumps together and sits between neurons, neurofibrillary tangles happen inside the neurons themselves, caused by defective proteins that clump up, tangle tiny microtubes within the neurons, and disrupt nutrient transportation.
While there is no known cure or vaccine for Alzheimer’s, it affects an estimated 50 million people worldwide, and poses a serious public health risk, as well as placing financial strain on public healthcare systems.
With scientists racing to find effective treatments for the disease, a team from the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland have discovered what may be a workable solution for removing defective beta-amyloid particles from the brain and restoring cognitive function to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
The technique is non-invasive, employing ultrasound technology to beam sound waves into brain tissue. This opens the blood-brain barrier, allowing waste removal cells to bypass the barrier and clear out toxic beta-amyloid particles in the brain.
The technique, when tested on mice, had a 75% success rate in terms of memory restoration – and most importantly, it carried zero negative side effects for surrounding brain tissue.
The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, tested the performance of mice with Alzheimer’s in memory-related tasks, and concluded that ultrasound technology “should be explored further as a noninvasive method with therapeutic potential in Alzheimer’s disease”(1).
“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics,” said professor Jurgen Gotz, a co-author of the study.
His excitement about the research was palpable in a recent press release, as he added:
“The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”
Gotz explained the significance of the study in terms of it’s implications for public health, stating that
“With an ageing population placing an increasing burden on health systems, an important factor is cost. Other potential drug treatments using antibodies will be expensive. In contrast, this method uses relatively inexpensive ultrasound and microbubble technology, which is non-invasive and appears highly effective.”
The study’s next step is to test the treatment on larger animals, such as sheep – human clinical trials of the treatment are scheduled to begin in the year 2017, just two years from today, if all goes well.
-  http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/7/278/278ra33￼￼￼￼￼