Alzheimer: Brain implant could improve cognitive function

According to the WHO, globally more than 50 million suffer this disease, and 10 million new cases appear every year

Alzheimer: Brain implant could improve cognitive function

Alzheimer is a brain disease without a cure that causes the progressive destruction of neurons. The most obvious symptoms are memory loss, difficulties to carry out daily tasks and to understand images, disorientation of time and place, and inability to communicate.

The University of Ohio, one of the institutions in the world best prepared for the treatment of Alzheimer, developed a study that aimed to design a brain implant that was able to counteract the effects of the disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 50 million people with Alzheimer's, and 10 million new cases appear every year. The institution argues that "although it mainly affects the elderly, dementia is not a normal consequence of aging."

The "brain pacemaker"

Doctors and scientists at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University implanted very thin wires on the brains of Alzheimer's patients. The deep brain stimulation (DBS), as the system was named, works by sending fine electrical pulses that stimulate the memory and movement of patients with neuronal diseases.

Douglas Scharre, director of the study, reported in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease that ““we have many memory aids, tools, and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory, but we don't have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions. These skills are necessary in performing daily tasks such as making the bed, choosing what to eat, and having meaningful socializing with friends and family”.

Scharre added that “the frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organize and plan, and utilize good judgments. By stimulating this region of the brain, the Alzheimer's subjects cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer's patients in a matched comparison group not being treated with DBS".

The study, which is still in the pilot phase, managed to determine that the use of DBS in the frontal lobes could reduce the effects of dementia. Furthermore, it improves the performance of patients with Alzheimer's in a mild or advanced state, from the stimulus of the neurons by slight electrical impulses. A model very similar to the one applied to the operation of the pacemaker in the heart.

The results

The tests were performed on three patients, including LaVonne Moore, an 85-year-old woman. Even before starting treatment in 2013, she did not remember how to prepare food. However, after the implant, little by little, the patient recovered some neuronal and motor abilities. Now, she is able to cook simple foods. In addition, the woman was able to leave her home by herself, keep some accounts, and choose on her own the clothes she would wear.

“LaVonne has had Alzheimer's disease longer than anybody I know, and that sounds negative, but it's really a positive thing because it shows that we're doing something right”, said Ted Moore, husband of the patient.

The next step in the research is to explore non-surgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe of Alzheimer's patients. For now, the advances continue thanks to resources coming from The Ohio State University Center for Neuromodulation, the Wright Center of Innovation in Biomedical Imaging, OTF-TECH-11-044 and philanthropic donations.

"This same technology has been successfully used to treat more than 135,000 patients worldwide with Parkinson's disease. Our findings suggest that frontal network modulation to improve executive and behavioral deficits should be further studied in patients with Alzheimer's disease", explained Ali Rezai, another of the doctors who is part of the Project.


Latin American Post | David Fernando Barrera
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza

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