Originally published December 27 2012
Electromedicine for Alzheimer's? Brain 'pacemaker' being pushed as new medical device
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) The conventional fight against Alzheimer's disease has taken a new direction, as some researchers are now investigating a unique form of "electromedicine" they believe might be a viable alternative to the failed pharmaceutical approach. According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, expanded trials will soon begin on an implanted pacemaker-like device that sends electrical signals into the brain, which experts hope will effectively reverse the cognitive decline associated with dementia, without the need for drugs.
A team of scientists from Canada originally came up with the concept, which involves directly stimulating areas of the brain that typically degrade as a result of Alzheimer's. According to reports, a few patients have already received the implanted device as part of preliminary trials, and the results have so far been quite promising. But now a team from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Maryland wants to take it a step further with a considerably larger trial.
In order to implant the device, surgeons must first drill holes into patients' skulls in order to implant wires that connect to the brain's fornix. The fornix is a vital brain pathway that delivers important information to the hippocampus, which is where the brain learns and where memories are formed. Once prepped, the wires are connected to an implanted stimulator device, which sends small electrical impulses into the brain at a rate of 130 times per second.
"Recent failures in Alzheimer's disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the build-up of 'plaques' in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies," explained Paul B. Rosenberg, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the JHU School of Medicine who is helping conduct the new trial.
"This is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically. It's a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging population."
Experts say patients who receive the device implant cannot feel its electrical impulses, but gradually begin to experience increases in glucose metabolism, which indicates that brain neurons are working properly. With this increase comes the hope that, over time, patients will also begin to regain their normal cognitive abilities as a result of this neuronal boost, effectively halting the progression of Alzheimer's.
"Deep brain stimulation might prove to be a useful mechanism for treating Alzheimer's disease, or it might help us develop less invasive treatments based on the same mechanism," added Dr. Rosenberg.
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