An Australian research group has used ultrasound to successfully improve memory in mice suffering from dementia. The ultrasound treatment helps the mice break down peptide plaques in their brains that seem to contribute to their Alzheimer’s-like memory loss.
Scientists worked with mice who have a genetic predisposition to produce greater than usual amounts of the peptide beta-amyloid. Just like human Alzheimer’s patients these mice have a build up of beta-amyloid brain plaques and suffer memory problems.
The mice received a non-invasive treatment with ultrasound once a week for five to seven weeks. The treated mice showed between a 50% reduction to complete clearance of brain plaques, without any apparent harm to their brain tissue. They also performed much better in memory tests, such as navigating mazes, in contrast to untreated mice.
The researchers showed that treatment had stimulated microglial cells, which are part of the brain’s immune system, these microglial cells then engulfed and broke down the beta-amyloid plaques.
One of the researchers, Juergen Goetz of the University of Queensland (Brisbane), said he was very excited by this result, but he pointed out that research is still at a very early stage, and we are some years away from human tests. The treatment will next be trialled in sheep, and data should be obtained from those experiments late in 2015.
It’s worth noting that although the mice in this study suffered from beta-amyloid plaques they did not have the cell damage and lost neural connections that are the other two main features seen in the brains of human Alzheimer’s patients. Nevertheless, this looks like a promising line of ongoing research into a disease that currently blights the lives of 50 million sufferers worldwide.
(This study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.)