It has long been tought Alzheimer’s Disease was not reversable. However, scientists in Canada have raised the possibility the degenerative brain disease may be reversed through deep brain stimulation.
Brain shrinkage, memory loss and reduced brain function have long been associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s. Experts had speculated this was permanent but researchers from Canada have shown this may not be the case. By using a technique known as deep brain stimulation they were able to show growth in the brain’s memory hub, reversing its decline.
While previously used with both Parkinson’s, Tourette’s Syndrome patients and those suffering from forms of depression, deep brain stimulation involves apply electricity directly to the regions of the brain identified through an MRI.
With a patient’s head stablized in a a fixed position, a small region of the brain is exposed and thin electrodes are placed next to the portion of the brain requiring stimulation. These electrodes are attached to a small battery implanted next to the collar bone, resulting in electricity flowing through the electrodes into the affected areas of the brain.
Research has shown the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to shrink in Alzheimer’s patients. This portion of the brain is used for converting short-term memories into longer term memories. Early stages of Alzheimer’s are shown as this area becomes damaged by the disease, resulting in memory loss and disorientation.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells throughout the entire brain are affected and are either dead or dying.
The researchers at the University of Toronto applied deep brain stimulation to the fornix of the brain, the part which passes messages to the hippocampus. Normally patients suffering from Alzheimer’s would show five percent shrinkage of the hippocampus per year. However, after twelve months of deep brain stimulation, one patient had a five percent growth and another an eight percent increase.
This is the first time deep brain stimulation has shown growth in any area of the brain and in one of the Alzheimer’s patients, it was like his disease had reversed.
Exactly how deep brain stimulation works with Alzheimer’s patients is unknown. It is also important to note the sample size was relatively small and there has yet to be any follow up done to determine if memory has improved.
Regardless, this is encouraging because it may signal the ability to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease several years.