Could a “Brain Pacemaker” Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

More than 5 million Americans today are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that by 2025, over 7 million will have this form of dementia. At present there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but new treatments are under investigation.

Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have a study underway to determine whether deep brain stimulation (DBS) can improve thinking and function in people with Alzheimer’s. Deep brain stimulation is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device, but is placed in the brain rather than in the heart. “Basically the pacemakers send tiny signals into the brain that regulate the abnormal activity of the brain and normalize it more,” says neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai, who is director of the OSU neuroscience program. At present, DBS is in use to successfully treat 100,000 patients who are living with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

Dr. Rezai and colleague Dr. Douglas Scharre will be placing the devices in the brains of ten research subjects in an ongoing FDA-approved study. Says Dr. Rezai “Right now, from what we’re seeing in our first patient, I think the results are encouraging, but this is research. We need to do more research and understand what’s going on.” He says, “If the early findings that we’re seeing continue to be robust and progressive, then I think that will be very promising and encouraging for us.”

The study, which will enroll people with mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, will help determine if DBS has the potential to improve cognitive, behavioral and functional deficits. It will conclude in 2015. The Ohio State neurology team are pioneers in the use of DBS in Parkinson’s disease, and are also testing the devices on people with traumatic brain injuries and obesity.