from the finally-some-good-news dept.
Australian researchers have come up with a non-invasive ultrasound technology that clears the brain of neurotoxic amyloid plaques - structures that are responsible for memory loss and a decline in cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients.
If a person has Alzheimer's disease, it's usually the result of a build-up of two types of lesions - amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles. Amyloid plaques sit between the neurons and end up as dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, a sticky type of protein that clumps together and forms plaques.
Neurofibrillary tangles are found inside the neurons of the brain, and they're caused by defective tau proteins that clump up into a thick, insoluble mass. This causes tiny filaments called microtubules to get all twisted, which disrupts the transportation of essential materials such as nutrients and organelles along them, just like when you twist up the vacuum cleaner tube.
[...] Publishing in Science Translational Medicine , the team describes the technique as using a particular type of ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating super-fast, these sound waves are able to gently open up the blood-brain barrier, which is a layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulate the brain's microglial cells to activate. Microglila cells are basically waste-removal cells, so they're able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer's.
The team reports fully restoring the memory function of 75 percent of the mice they tested it on, with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They found that the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks - a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.
[...] The team says they're planning on starting trials with higher animal models, such as sheep, and hope to get their human trials underway in 2017.
A 25-year-old man recovering from a coma has made remarkable progress following a treatment at UCLA to jump-start his brain using ultrasound. The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain's central hub for processing information.
"It's almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function," said Martin Monti, the study's lead author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. "Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus," he said. "Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive."
[...] The technique, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was pioneered by Alexander Bystritsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a co-author of the study. Bystritsky is also a founder of Brainsonix, a Sherman Oaks, California-based company that provided the device the researchers used in the study.
That device, about the size of a coffee cup saucer, creates a small sphere of acoustic energy that can be aimed at different regions of the brain to excite brain tissue. For the new study, researchers placed it by the side of the man's head and activated it 10 times for 30 seconds each, in a 10-minute period.
Monti said the device is safe because it emits only a small amount of energy — less than a conventional Doppler ultrasound.
Three days after the treatment the patient in the study regained full consciousness and language comprehension.
Non-Invasive Ultrasonic Thalamic Stimulation in Disorders of Consciousness after Severe Brain Injury: A First-in-Man Report (DOI: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.07.008) (DX)
Pfizer has announced that it will halt efforts to find new treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Meanwhile, Axovant Sciences will halt its studies of intepirdine after it failed to show any improvement for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. The company's stock price has declined around 90% in 3 months:
Pfizer has announced plans to end its research efforts to discover new drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The pharmaceutical giant explained its decision, which will entail roughly 300 layoffs, as a move to better position itself "to bring new therapies to patients who need them."
"As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate [spending] to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients," Pfizer said in a statement emailed to NPR.
[...] Despite heavily funding research efforts into potential treatments in the past, Pfizer has faced high-profile disappointment in recent years, as Reuters notes: "In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) called off additional work on the drug bapineuzumab after it failed to help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in its second round of clinical trials."
Another potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders — this one developed by Axovant, another pharmaceutical company — also found itself recently abandoned. The company dropped its experimental drug intepirdine after it failed to improve motor function in patients with a certain form of dementia — just three months after it also failed to show positive effects in Alzheimer's patients.
Looks like GlaxoSmithKline got a good deal when they sold the rights to intepirdine to Axovant Sciences in 2014.
Also at Bloomberg.
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