The non-invasive ultrasound treatment tested by the researchers has restored memory function in 75% of mice involved in the trial. The mice showed improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, recognition of new objects, and a task designed to get them to avoid certain places.
The treatment beams sound waves into the brain tissue. These waves are oscillating very fast and are able to open the blood-brain barrier, thereby stimulating the brain’s microglial cells – essentially the brain’s waste-removal cells. They are then able to clean out the protein clumps causing the memory loss, and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s.
The breakthrough is potentially revolutionary for a number of reasons.
Worldwide there are already an estimated 50 million dementia suffers. As the global population ages, this is predicted to hit 135 million by 2050. Advances in treatment are therefore increasingly urgent.
As it doesn’t involve drugs, the authors believe it will be much cheaper than treatments using antibodies.
“With an ageing population placing an increasing burden on health systems, an important factor is cost. Other potential drug treatments using antibodies will be expensive,” argued Mr Götz.
Finally, the treatment is non-invasive, and the trial was reported to result in no brain damage to the mice.
Human clinical trials could begin as soon as 2017, giving hope to millions around the world.