The first ultrasound treatment was used to treat Alzheimer’s by a team at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.
“For Alzheimer’s, there’s not that many treatments available despite hundreds of clinical trials over the past two decades and billions of dollars spent,” said Dr. Ali R. Rezai, a neurosurgeon at WVU who led the team of investigators that successfully performed a phase II trial using focused ultrasound to treat a patient with early stage Alzheimer’s.
There is a nearly impenetrable shield between the brain’s blood vessels and cells that make up brain tissue called appropriately the “brain-blood barrier”. While it protects the brain, its shield also doesn’t allow any kind of treatment to get in to treat brain disease.
Alzheimer’s is thought to brought on by plaques which are clusters of proteins that accumulate and block-up the brain’s connectivity. So ultrasound treatment can break through the brain-blood barrier to open up the shield to introduce various medical treatments to shrink the plaques. Treatments like chemotherapy, medications, antibodies, immune system cells, amino therapy or stem cells can now be utilized.
Last summer, researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto reported the results of a phase I safety trial showing that they could reversibly open the blood-brain barrier in Alzheimer’s patients.
The phase II procedure involved the use of ultrasound waves focused through a specialized helmet with more than 1,000 probes targeting a precise spot in the brain, Dr. Rezai said, coupled with microscopic bubbles. “And when we put a different frequency of ultrasound on the bubbles, they start osculating,” he said.
In this case, the West Virginia team targeted the hippo-campus and the memory and cognitive centers of the brain, which are impacted by plaques found in patients with Alzheimer’s.
The procedure, which lasted three hours, safely and successfully opened her blood-brain barrier for a record 36 hours. “It was opened longer than they expected,” said a team member, Dr. Mark Polak, “They were actually, I think both excited and scared. The team was ecstatic.” They were hopeful they could decrease some of the big plaques in the hippo-campus and the memory and cognitive center of the patient.
The team stopped short of giving any immediate results from the first treatment and Dr. Rezai said “the potential benefits of the first and subsequent treatments will take several years to fully evaluate”.
However, the patient Judi Polak, said she noticed a change the next day. “I think I could speak clearer and did not wait as long in answering questions,” she said. “Sometimes, in the past, things would leave my mind and I couldn’t remember things.” “This is man on the moon stuff,” Judi’s husband, Mark Polak said of his wife’s success in the first trial. “Maybe we’re on to something.”