Canadian Researchers Poke Holes in Brain Barrier With Ultrasound Procedures To Treat Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s patients enrolled in an experiment to see if they can be treated. But letting scientists beam sound waves into their brains to open the barrier shield sounds risky.

The blood-brain barrier acts as a protective shield, keeping the germs and other damaging substances from going through the bloodstream. But the problem is that this shield also blocks treatment used for Alzheimer’s, brain tumors or different neurological diseases.

On 25 July, Canadian researchers reported that they could safely poke through that barrier, and the holes will quickly seal up. This means that treatment for brain disease can be delivered in a non-invasive method.

Dr. Nir Lipsman is the leader of the study and a neurosurgeon at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. The results of his study were published this week in Nature Communications.

The Research Behind the Discovery

The first step of the research was conducted on only six people to find out if poking holes through the barrier will result in bleeding of fragile vessels or other side effects.

Dr. Eliezer Masliah (U.S. National Institute on Aging) was not involved with the study, but things that the approach is ” definitely promising,” adding that:

“What is remarkable is that they could do it in a very focused way, they can target a very specific brain region.”

After more safety studies are conducted, this method would be very useful in treating glioblastoma and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

How Does The Procedure Work?

It starts by injecting microscopic bubbles in the bloodstream. They place the person in an MRI scanner, and scientists choose the brain area they want to breach. Then, they use a helmet device and beam ultrasound waves through the spot, which will make the tiny bubbles vibrate and make room for treatments.

To see if the barrier was breached, the team injected the test subject with a dye which is supposed to appear in that part of the brain after the “hole” was made. The results were successful and the next day’s scan showed that the barrier was closed again. Patients under the experiment repeated the procedure a month later and saw no serious side-effects or no worsening in their condition.

The first participant of the study was Rick Karr (Everett, Ont.), who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. “It’s not painful or anything,” he said, knowing that this study won’t help him with his memory, but that he “could help somebody else down the road.”

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