For an individual to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s more than being frustrated and confused at the forgetting of names, it’s to live with a disease that dramatically increases one’s risk of death.
According to ALZ, Alzheimer’s, the #6 cause of death in the United States, presently takes more lives than prostate and breast cancers combined! In fact, it is reported to affect 50 million individuals worldwide.
But thanks to a team from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at the University of Queensland, Australia, a promising solution might soon exist. After trials showed a FULL restoration of memory in 75% of the tested lab mice, the team invested real hope into the idea that this disease might soon be treated conventionally.
The researchers created a non-invasive ultrasound technology that clears the brain of neurotic amyloid plaques, the structures that are responsible for memory loss and a decline in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.
Published in Science Translational Medicine, the report shares that if a person has Alzheimer’s disease, it’s usually due to the build-up of two different types of lesions – amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
Amyloid plaques sit between the neurons and end up as dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, a sticky type of protein that clumps together and forms plaques. And neurofibrillary tangles are found inside the neurons of the brain; they are caused by defective tau proteins that clump up into a thick, insoluble mass which causes filaments, called microtubules, to get all twisted. In effect, this disrupts the transportation of essential materials such as nutrients and organelles along them, similar to when you twist up the vacuum cleaner tube.
While some research has been released showing the importance of preventative medicine in reducing one’s likelihood for developing Alzheimer’s, at present there are no pharmaceutical drugs or vaccines on the market which can prevent or remedy the disease.
It makes sense, then, as to why it has been a race to figure out how to best treat Alzheimer’s, and scientists have started by trying to figure out how to clear the build-up of defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from a patient’s brain.
The team describes the technique as using a particular type of ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating at an incredibly high speed, these sound waves are able to gently open up the blood-brain barrier, which is a layer that protects the brain against bacteria while also stimulating the brain’s microglial cells to activate. Microglial cells are basically waste-removal cells that help to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Amazingly enough, the team reports fully restoring the memory function in 75% of the mice they tested on, with ZERO damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They even found the rodents to display improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, a test to get them to recognize new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.
Stated Jürgen Götz, one of the team members, in a press release:
“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics. 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.”
As shared in Science Alert, the team plans on starting trials with higher animal models, such as sheep, and has ambition to get human trials underway in 2017.
The full ABC radio interview with the team can be found here.