50+ Health Conditions, Health Studies

Australian Scientists Restore Memory in Alzheimer’s Patients

Scientists in Australia have developed a groundbreaking non-invasive ultrasound technology that removes neurotoxic amyloid plaques from the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. The plaques are characteristic of the disease, indicating memory loss and decline in cognitive function.

Two types of lesions appear in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The Amyloid plaques are dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, and they are situated between neurons.

Neurofibrillary tangles occur inside the brain’s neurons, created when defective tau proteins clump together and form a thick mass. The mass causes tiny filaments known as microtubules to become twisted, which interrupts the transport of essential nutrients and organelles along them.

There is currently no way to prevent Alzheimers, which affects 50 million people around the world. Efforts at treatment have focused on clearing the accumulation of defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from patients’ brains. The most promising treatment option yet proposed comes from the research team at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at the University of Queensland.

Results of the research were published in Science Translational Medicine.The team of scientists developed what they call a focused therapeutic ultrasound which non-invasively sends sound waves into the brain tissue. These sound waves oscillate at a high rate of speed, penetrating the blood-brain barrier (the layer that protects the brain from bacteria) and activates the brain’s microglial cells. Microglial cells remove waste, and thus are able to clear the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that cause the most acute symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers report the ultrasound restored memory function in three-quarters of the mice on which it was tested, with no damage at all to surrounding brain tissue. The treated mice improved performance in three memory tasks.

In a press release, team member Jürgen Götz said:

We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics. 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.

Next, the scientists will conduct trials using sheep, and they hope to begin human trials during 2017.