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There may be a new treatment available for Alzheimer’s patients thanks to some ultrasound experimentation being done in Ontario.

One of the biggest challenges in treating Alzheimer’s, the degenerative brain disease that over half a million Canadians are currently battling, is getting past the brain’s own defense mechanism, the blood-brain barrier. The barrier wraps the entire brain and keeps harmful toxins and proteins travelling in the bloodstream away from the brain. But in the case of Alzheimer’s patients, it may also be keeping harmful plaque in.

Researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have been attempting to rid Alzheimer’s patients of the toxic brain plaque by using focused ultrasounds to open the blood-brain barrier.

“It’s revolutionary in that it’s doing something that hasn’t been done before,” said Sandra Black, one of the lead investigators of the treatment. “It’s using a non-invasive way to open the blood-brain barrier.”

In the procedure, microbubbles are injected into the bloodstream, which are then vibrated from a low-frequency, targeted ultrasound as they enter the brain, thus opening the blood-brain barrier for six to eight hours. This will (hopefully) flush out the harmful plaque. Think of it like dialysis, but for diseased brains.

Similar studies performed on mice were successful in ridding their brains of plaque — researchers also noted an improvement in their memory and behaviour, so there’s some reason for optimism. But this is the first trial on humans, and with just six patients participating, it’s important to be cautious.

“It’s a whole new world of possibilities. But we have to take one step at a time and make sure it’s safe,” said Black.

This could be the first step in developing a potential treatment for one of the world’s nastiest diseases. More research will be conducted over the next couple years to ensure its success, and the world will be watching.