An Alzheimer’s patient received a deep brain stimulation implant at The Johns Hopkins Hospital as part of a clinical trial designed to slow or halt the devastating effects of the disease. It’s the first of its kind operation to have been performed in the U.S., according to the Laboratory Equipment report.
The pacemaker-like device, which was surgically implanted into the brain of a patient, is seen as a possible means of boosting memory and reversing cognitive decline. Researchers said the study focuses on the use of the low-voltage electrical charges delivered directly to the brain. This month, a second patient is scheduled for the same procedure.
“Recent failures in Alzheimer’s disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies,” says Paul Rosenberg, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine, and site director of the trial’s Johns Hopkins location. “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 of the population.”
The surgery involves drilling holes into the skull to implant wires into the fornix on either side of the brain. The fornix is a brain pathway instrumental in bringing information to the hippocampus, the portion of the brain where learning begins and memories are made, and where the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear to arise. The wires are attached to a pacemaker-like device, the “stimulator,” which generates tiny electrical impulses into the brain 130 times a second. Rosenberg said don’t feel the current.
Forty patients are expected to undergo the similar surgery over the next year or so at Johns Hopkins and four other institutions in North America. The surgeries are being performed by neurosurgeon William Anderson. Only patients whose cognitive impairment is mild enough that they can decide on their own to participate will be included in the trial.
“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,” Rosenberg adds.