Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Brain stimulation reverses shrinkage in Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is marked by progressive degeneration of certain brain areas and associated loss of memory. There is no cure, but a recent study with a technique called deep brain stimulation (DBS) shows we might be able to treat the symptoms, by reversing some of the brain shrinkage found in Alzheimer's. A key brain part involved in the disease was found to grow, and the neurological deteroriation that is accompanied with it was found to be slowed. This shows using DBS may alleviate the symptoms and possibly keep the disease from progressing once it is finetuned. It was already shown that stimulating a part of the brain involved with the disease was able to let cells grow back, but this is the first time clinical improvement was found.
With DBS, it is possible to electrically stimulate parts of the brain. Excitation of neurons, the cells of the brain, can promote repair processes that allow damaged areas to regain their function. It is known that ordinary brain activity can increase the number of neurons and delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. DBS seems to work by similar process, where brain activity is mimicked by electricity. Neurons also use electrical signals to communicate with each other, explaining why DBS works. Naturally, it is impossible to mimic the delicate and precise signalling that is found between neurons, but it still proves to be an effective tool in brain diseases.

When using DBS on Alzheimer's patients, it was found that the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with memory and one of the first to be affected in the disease, was found to reverse typical shrinkage accompanying the disease. In fact, the hippocampus was even found to grow bigger. That is a promising result for the treatment of this severe neurodegenerative disease, for which currently there is no known cure available.

The technique is already being tested in other neurodegenerative diseases, such as parkinson's disease, which is marked by degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons that play a role in the control of motor functions. Death of these cells causes the typical shaking and tremors that these patients experience. Next to DBS, stem cells may also be beneficial for treatment of parkinson's patients.

Interestingly, DBS was found to be more effective when patients consciously think about the treatment they receive.

No comments:

Post a Comment