Last month, surgeons at Johns Hopkins implanted a pacemaker-like device into the brain of a patient with mild Alzheimer’s, the sixth patient in a multicenter trial of the experimental therapy. The hope is that the electrical stimulation delivered by the device could improve memory and slow cognitive decline in patients with the disease.
Deep-brain stimulation is already used to treat patients with Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and researchers are exploring its use in other conditions, including obesity. In each case, electrodes are inserted into different regions of the brain depending on the intended therapy. In the Alzheimer’s trial, the device is placed into a region of the brain involved in learning and memory.
The treatment has so far been tested in an already completed pilot study with six patients with Alzheimer’s. After a year of constant stimulation, the brains of these patients showed slightly increased glucose consumption in PET scans—a sign of increased neuron activity—in areas in the brain involved in learning and memory. Typically in Alzheimer’s patients, glucose metabolism decreases in the brain regions involved in memory, says Constantine Lyketsos, director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center and co-chair of the new trial.
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