As the world’s population continues to age the problem of dementia increases. These brain diseases see people slowly lose the ability to think, remember, and inevitably they become unable to look after themselves. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia suffered by the elderly (around 70% of cases), and scientists have just made a big breakthrough in managing to reverse the symptoms using ultrasound.
Although we can’t yet cure Alzheimer’s disease, we know that one of the problems is a build up of plaques on the brain which then act as a neurotoxin. Researchers at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto have used magnetic resonance imaging-guided focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier using microbubbles and therefore allowing drugs to be delivered that breakdown these plaques.
The use of ultrasound in this way has been tested on mice that have increased levels of plaque on their hippocampus and show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By delivering the drugs using this ultrasound technique, both memory impairment and a reduced ability to learn were reversed. It was also found that opening the blood-brain barrier in this way did not damage any tissue.
Although it isn’t a cure for the disease, it does hold promise that regular ultrasound treatments on the brain could greatly reduce the impact Alzheimer’s disease has on a person’s brain, and therefore extend their life and ability to function without the need for additional care.
For now, the positive results using mice should open the door to more research and hopefully a shift in focus on to actual humans. We have much more complex brains than mice, but the same technique may work for the millions of people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease who currently have no real treatment to turn to.