In 2015, there are 5.1 million people aged 65 and older suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. By 2025, the number is expected to have increased by 40%. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
The disease affects mainly those aged 65 and older and gradually worsens with age. Some of the symptoms include memory loss, problem solving challenges, confusion with time, place or things and changes in mood and personality.
Research into ways of treating Alzheimer’s disease has only gained momentum in the last 30 years. A recent report conducted by CNN demonstrates the concern over the significant number of patients who do not discover their illness until it is too late. Only 55% of patients first receive this life changing news directly from their doctors.
However, Australian researchers may have found a potential solution. A new ultrasound technology has been invented and tested on laboratory mice that also carried the disease. In theory, the ultrasound waves should open the blood-brain barrier and activate the microglial cells. These cells should then eradicate the protein clumps which contribute to the development of the disease.
A number of mice were genetically engineered to produce protein clumps similar to those found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers. These mice were treated weekly over a period of seven weeks. They underwent three memory tasks: completing a maze, recognizing new objects and remembering to avoid certain “danger zones” where the mouse would receive an electric shock.
The results showed that the memories of 75% of the diseased mice were successfully restored after the treatment. The mice remembered to avoid the “danger zones” in the maze and had no trouble remembering what they had previously learnt. The treatment did not appear to cause any tissue damage.
“We’re enthusiastic about it because this is a novel avenue and a novel therapeutic idea,” said Gerhard Leinenga, one of the researchers. “We think it shows promise based on our results.”
Could the treatment be equally successful for humans?
Although the human brain is much larger and has a thicker skull than the brain of a mouse, the researchers remain hopeful. The trials, which begin in 2017, could be groundbreaking for the future of Alzheimer’s disease.