One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s disease. There’s no cure, but researchers are hoping that electricity may help stop it at the earliest stages.
“By increasing the flow of information, in that track, we might improve the ability of a person to retain new information,” explained Dr. Gabriel De Erausquin, UT Health San Antonio neurologist and psychiatrist.
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. Then, you tunnel the wires underneath the skin, behind the ear and underneath the skin down the neck, down to the chest wall," explained Dr. Alexander Papanastassiou, UT Health San Antonio neurosurgeon. "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,” De Erausquin mentioned.
A San Antonio woman in her 70s 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," De Erausquin recalled.
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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,” De Erausquin emphasized.
There are 27 sites worldwide testing DBS for treating Alzheimer’s patients. Eighteen are in the U.S.
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.
Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer, Editor.