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'Brain pacemakers' eyed in fight against Alzheimer's

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Jan 22, 2013 in Health
The first human clinical trials of deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat Alzheimer's Disease using a surgically implanted device many scientists have nicknamed a "brain pacemaker" are underway at research centers in the United States and Canada.
Fox News and Science Daily reported scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine and a handful of other research centers in the United States and Canada are shifting to testing surgical implants as an Alzheimer's remedy because drug treatments have produced largely disappointing results in clinical trials so far.
Human studies on DBS as an Alzheimer's treatment first took place at the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2010, where the safety of the devices was tested with several patients exhibiting mild, early-stage Alzheimer's symptoms, Eurekalert and Science Daily reported.
But DBS, profiled by Digital Journal early last year, which involves surgery on specific areas of the brain to implant a pacemaker-like device that sends out electrical impulses, has shown promise since 1997 (when it was approved by the FDA) in treating patients with Parkinson's Disease, Tourette Syndrome and mental illness, Science Daily reported. During a 13-month preliminary Alzheimer's DBS study, some patients showed significant increases in glucose metabolism, one indicator of neuronal activity that usually declines over a comparable period in untreated Alzheimer's patients, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
The larger federally funded clinical trial in progress now is taking place at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the University of Toronto, the University of Florida, the University of Pennsylvania, and Banner Health System in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Eurekalert.
This multicenter collaboration heads in a new direction, because implanting brain pacemaker wires to slow the devastating progression of Alzheimer's dreaded symptoms -- pervasive memory loss, then eventual loss of most human abilities -- is a mechanical intervention aimed at enhancing function in the fornix brain pathways that bring information to the hippocampus, a key brain region for memory formation and learning, while many recent studies have focused on drug treatments targeting brain cells at the molecular level, but have failed to prove effective thus far, John Hopkins Medicine News reported.
BBC News reported that only patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease will be eligible to participate in the new trial, and about 50 will be implanted starting this April. But the electrodes will be turned on after two weeks in only half (and in the other half after a year), so researchers can test for differences between the two groups.
More about Alzheimer's, Alzheimers Disease, Brain, Neuroscience, brain pacemaker