Ultrasound: Alzheimer's"Breakthrough" or Another Broken Promise?

Caregiver, patient expert

Could non-invasive ultrasound therapy reverse Alzheimer's symptoms for some of the 35.6 million people living with dementia worldwide? Only time will tell. However this method, free of the ongoing side effects of drugs, has been used successfully in early mouse studies by University of Queensland's Brain Institute.

Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research director Professor Jürgen Götz said the new treatment method could revolutionize Alzheimer’s treatment by restoring memory.

A UQ News article quoted Professor Götz as saying, “We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics. The ultrasound waves oscillate tremendously quickly, activating microglial cells that digest and remove the amyloid plaques that destroy brain synapses."

Professor Götz added, “The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”

Researchers were able to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier in Alzheimer's mouse models, which activated mechanisms that cleared toxic protein clumps and restored memory functions for these mice. This approach only kept the blood-brain barrier open for a few hours before it was restored to its intended, protective role.

The next steps in the research will be to study ultrasound therapy using other animal models, but they hope to start human trials in about two years.

The Queensland researchers noted that if follow up studies prove ultrasound treatment is effective in humans it will be a cost effective way of treating Alzheimer’s. Drug approaches and the use of anti-bodies, both of which are being studied, will likely be much more expensive.

These scientists are hopeful that their ultrasound method will clear toxic protein aggregates in neurodegenerative diseases other than Alzheimer’s and may even restore executive functions such as decision-making and motor control.

Will we, once again, be disappointed? Throughout the last couple of years we’ve seen one “breakthrough” after another. A cancer drug that promises to work on toxic proteins here, a diabetes drug that could reverse Alzheimer’s there. Many have fallen off the radar shortly after the first news releases flood the Internet with promises of a cure.

Yet, what is the alternative? Studies are essentially experiments and will yield varying results. It’s only through research like this that a method or a group of methods will be found to prevent or cure this devastating disease.

Personally, I am thrilled to read about one more "breakthrough." Ultrasound for Alzheimer's is an innovative approach. Here’s hoping that this truly is a breakthrough that will eventually prove to be at least one reliable way to help those who have already developed Alzheimer's disease.

Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at _ www.mindingourelders.com and_www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook:_ Minding Our Elders

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