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Pacemaker for the brain

11 December 2012

Pacemaker for the brain

A pacemaker device has been implanted into the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient in an effort to reduce memory loss.  The technology uses deep brain stimulation and has already been used in thousands of people living with Parkinson’s disease as a means of boosting memory and reversing cognitive decline.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been looking for an alternative to drug treatments, many of which have failed in recent trials.  They are looking at the effects of low voltage electrical charges which are delivered directly to the brain.

In 2010 the devices were implanted into 6 patients in Canada.  Some had the devices activated 2 weeks after surgery while the other half waited for 1 year.  The patients and the doctors treating them were not made aware when the device was to be turned on.  The results showed that patients with mild forms of the condition showed increases in glucose metabolism, which indicates that the brain neurones are working, over a 13 month period.  Usually patients experience a decline over the same period.

Paul B. Rosenberg, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, “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.  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.  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.”