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Reversing Alzheimer’s?

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“I think I could speak clearer and did not wait as long in answering questions,” she said. “Sometimes, in the past, things would leave my mind and I couldn’t remember things.”

Let me just start by saying that this could be a quote from the first Alzheimer’s disease patient to undergo a successful treatment to reverse the condition.

Not a cure, and no one yet knows how durable the change, but a rather significant clinical step in the right direction.  Our medical science staffer, Dr. Steve Steiber, and I have written before about how there are a number of FDA-approved therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease and hundreds I clinical trials, but so far there is nothing that does more than slow the progression of Alzheimer’s cognitive decline.

Scientists at West Virginia’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute have initiated a “proof of concept” trial on just six 50 to 85 year old mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients using ultrasound to penetrate the blood brain barrier, a layer that protects the brain itself from all that can invade our blood stream.  They used a thousand tiny probes with oscillating ultrasound that used microscopic bubbles that could move into the area of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s amyloid plaque. The ultrasound seems able to break up some of this debilitating plaque.

This first test seems to demonstrate the safety of the technique as well as likely efficacy, but all of this is with a couple caveats.  First, it is with a very small number of patients.  The real test will come later when a large enough number of subjects can be tried in order to demonstrate cognitive differences that are statistically significant.  Second, it is “just” the ultrasound that has cross the blood brain barrier to break up the plaque.  Medical professionals see this method as really kind of a transportation test.  If they can safely cross the blood brain barrier to the part of the brain where they can address the disease head on, the hippocampus, then they can use the waves and their tiny bubbles to carry actual chemicals that fight the plaque to where they can do the most good.  It’s a bit like showing that we can launch a special rocket that succeeds in getting where we want to go; and now we can potentially attach an important payload to this rocket.  (Yes, it is brain surgery and rocket science…)

The doctors and researchers in this project admit that it may take a few years to begin to realize the full potential of this technique, but it is the patient’s husband who takes our rocket science and brain surgery metaphor a “small step” further.  “This is man on the moon stuff,” Mark Polak said of his wife’s success in the first trial. “Maybe we’re on to something?”  If you want to read more on the science, please click here; if you want to read more of the personal story of one patient’s experience with the science, please click here.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.  And yes, we may be revising this book a bit sooner than we had anticipated…

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