Study: Low-Intensity, Non-Invasive Ultrasound Could Treat Alzheimer’s Disease


Australian scientists may have found a way to treat Alzheimer's disease using non-invasive methods.

Results from a study conducted by Queensland Brain Institute researchers on mice models suggest that low-intensity ultrasound can be effective in restoring the brain's cognitive features without having to cross the blood-brain barrier.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, current treatment efforts are made toward delaying the brain's deterioration due to the illness. Symptoms are also treated using both drug-based and non-drug methods, with the goal to help individuals with Alzheimer's and their caregivers cope better with the decline.

According to 2021 figures from the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting one in nine people aged 65 years and up, or 11.3% of this population. The percentage of people living with the disease increases according to age. It affects 5.3% of people aged 65 to 74 years, 13.8% of those aged 75 to 84 years, and 34.6% of those who are 85 and older. It is also possible for people younger than 65 to have Alzheimer's, though its prevalence remains uncertain.

Research shows that the disease affects more women than men, accounting for two-thirds of the total number. In the U.S., around 3.8 million of those documented to have Alzheimer's disease are women, while 2.4 million are men. The reason for this large gap could be because women tend to live longer than men, and that older age is a major risk factor for the disease.

The recent research by Professor Jürgen Götz and the multidisciplinary team from Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research presents a possible breakthrough in how the health care providers and clinicians approach the disease.

Before arriving at these observations, the QBI researchers tested the method on mice. One group was given low-intensity ultrasound with barrier-opening microbubbles, while the other group was assigned as the control to receive low-intensity ultrasound but without the microbubbles.

The results showed that ultrasound combined with microbubbles can safely get through the blood brain barrier and enhance the delivery of anti-amyloid antibodies to the brain. Such antibodies are used to reduce plaques in the brain and, in effect, improve cognitive capacity.

"Using ultrasound could enhance cognition independently of clearing amyloid and tau, which form plaques and tangles in people with Alzheimer's disease. Microbubbles will continue to be used in combination with ultrasound in ongoing Alzheimer's research," Götz said.

There's been plenty of research available supporting the claim that ultrasound is safe for treating Alzheimer's disease. But, according to Götz, there remains questions on whether it addresses the pathological or physiological aging process.

"We believe there may be some overlap between physiological and pathological aging in the brain, and the potential for this to be correct with ultrasound is meaningful for those living with the disease. We are taking these findings and implementing them in our Alzheimer's research as we go forward to clinical trials," Götz added.

The study is published in the Natural Journal, Molecular Psychiatry.

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