HealthDay News — Preliminary research in mice raises the possibility that an ultrasound-based treatment might help eliminate plaque buildup in the brain that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists don’t know whether the approach is feasible for humans, but the research is promising, especially because of how well mice with an Alzheimer’s-like disease fared after treatment, said study lead author Gerhard Leinenga, a graduate student at the University of Queensland in Australia.
The ultrasound treatment targets brain-clogging material known as amyloid plaque. Scientists suspect plaque is connected to the development of Alzheimer’s disease — a progressive brain disorder — but its exact role is unclear.
In the new study, which appears in Science Translational Medicine, researchers turned to ultrasound, the same sound-wave technology that helps doctors view internal organs and babies in the womb. The researchers applied ultrasound to mice with Alzheimer’s-like disease after injecting them with “microbubbles” that vibrate when they encounter ultrasound signals.
The technique appeared to reduce levels of amyloid plaque in the treated mice and nearly eliminate it in 75% of the animals — without damaging brain tissue. The treated mice also performed better on memory tests, including a maze, places of avoidance and object recognition, the researchers said.
There are many caveats to the new research.
Potential costs and side effects in humans are unknown. And it’s unclear if the treatment will even work, let alone whether it actually halts progression of the devastating illness. Although plaque is thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s, this has not been confirmed.
Also, “human brains and human cognition are much more complex than in mice,” Leinenga said. “And the brains we treated were much smaller than a human brain, with very thin skulls, so this technique using ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier will need to be optimized in order to treat a human brain.”
Leinenga G and Gotz J. Scanning ultrasound removes amyloid-β and restores memory in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Sci Transl Med. 2015; 7 (278):278ra33.