In what is being hailed as a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, a team of scientists at the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute successfully restored memory function in mice using a non-invasive ultrasound technique.
According to CNET, Professor Jürgen Götz from the Institute’s Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research and his colleagues report in the journal Science Translational Medicine that they used a drug-free technology to break down the neurotoxic amyloid plaques responsible for causing memory loss and cognitive decline in patients with the degenerative condition.
Footloose and plaque-free
In testing their treatment, the researchers first deposited amyloid-β, the peptide that has been linked to Alzheimer’s-related dementia, into the brains of test mice. They then treated those mice with repeated scanning ultrasounds, which uses rapidly-oscillating waves which activate the cells that help digest and remove the synapse-destroying plaque formed by amyloid-β.
When the brains of the mice were examined using spinning disc confocal microscopy and 3D reconstruction, Götz and his fellow researchers found that the newly-activated microglial cells consumed much of the offending peptide. In fact, when compared to control mice, 75 percent of the mice treated with ultrasound were found to be plaque-free, and those creatures performed far better on memory-related tasks than members of the placebo group.
“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics,” Götz, the director of the Centre, said in a statement. “The word ‘breakthrough’ is often mis-used, 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.”
Relatively inexpensive treatment
The mice took part in three tests of their cognitive function: the Y-maze test, the novel object recognition test and the active place avoidance test. They performed at a level equal to healthy mice on all three tasks, the authors said, and while the human brain differs from that of a mouse, they believe that the ultrasound treatment technique could be more effective than Alzheimer’s drugs if it is administered early enough in the process.
“This method uses relatively inexpensive ultrasound and microbubble technology which is non-invasive and appears highly effective,” Götz said. “The approach is able to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, activating mechanisms that clear toxic protein clumps and restoring memory functions. With our approach the blood-brain barrier’s opening is only temporary for a few hours, so it quickly restores its protective role.”
Götz and his colleagues now plan to continue their work to see if the ultrasound method is able to remove toxic protein aggregates in other neurodegenerative diseases, and to see if it can help restore decision-making and motor control functions as well as memory and cognitive ability. Clinical trials in humans are not believed to begin until at least 2017, according to CNET.
The institute explains that Alzheimer’s affects more than two-thirds of dementia patients, and approximately 250,000 Australian adults. The total number of dementia cases in the country is expected to reach 900,000 by the year 2050, the researchers added. Their study was funded in part by a $9 million investment by the Queensland government.