Medical Moment: Deep brain stimulation targets Alzheimer’s

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 4:53 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number could be as high as 13 million!

There’s only one FDA-approved pill that can help slow the progression.

But now, there’s a new treatment, not a drug, that could help slow the progression of this terrible disease.

“By increasing the flow of information, in that track, we might improve the ability of a person to retain new information,” said Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, a neurologist and psychologist at UT Health San Antonio.

Researchers are targeting the fornix, a part of the brain responsible for memory, with deep brain stimulation, sending electrical impulses to targeted areas.

“The electrodes go down into the brain near the Fornix,” said Alexander Papanastassiou, MD, a neurosurgeon at UT Health San Antonio. “Then, you tunnel the wires underneath the skin, behind the ear and underneath the skin down by the neck, down to the chest wall. And then, we have a little battery pack there. It’s a lot like a pacemaker.”

“The patient is awake, and we are asking them questions,” Dr. Erausquin continued.

A San Antonio woman in her 70′s was one of the first in the world to receive DBS. On the operating table she suddenly started talking about a long-lost memory.

“She was suddenly flattered by a memory of her sister and her playing on the beach,” Dr. Erausquin explained.

During two years of stimulation, researchers proved DBS is safe for Alzheimer’s patients and the disease did not progress in most of the patients.

“Twenty-four months without worsening is quite good. It’s better than anything we have right now,” Dr. Erausquin said.

There are 27 sites worldwide testing DBS for treating Alzheimer’s patients. 18 are in the US. The study doesn’t aim to reverse the disease progression, that’s why it’s important to do this treatment in the early stages of the disease.

DBS is currently used to treat patients with Parkinson’s, seizures, and depression.

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