Researchers believe that they have developed a technique that could restore memory for people with Alzheimer's disease.
“The word 'breakthrough' is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach,” Jürgen Götz, who worked on the project, said in a statement.
The technique — which has only been tested on mice so far — uses ultrasound to break down the brain plaques believed to destroy memory in Alzheimer's patients. It was developed by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia.
Earlier this year, researchers inserted amyloid-β plaque into the brains of mice, then used ultrasound on them. They found that the ultrasound vibrations caused microglial cells in the brain to begin consuming the plaque.
Alzheimer's disease currently affects more than 5 million Americans. It is a disease that destroys a person's memory and ability to think clearly, and it gets progressively worse. If you have Alzheimer's, you generally begin to notice symptoms in your 60s, but it can appear as early as your 40s in rare cases.
What does the ultrasound technique mean for treating humans?
"Whether or not this is a real breakthrough depends on the ability to translate the findings from mice to humans, which may not be easy," Gal Bitan, an associate professor in residence of neurology at UCLA, told ATTN:. "In general, treatments that showed promise in mice have been difficult to translate to effective therapy for Alzheimer’s patients for a variety of reasons, including the limitations of the mouse models we currently have."
Bitan added that ultrasound itself could be damaging to the brain. Before it can be considered a realistic treatment, there will have to be significantly more testing.
As for other treatments, Bitan said that there is currently no way to restore or maintain memory in Alzheimer's patients.
"There are several therapies in clinical trials and many more in the pipeline," he said. "We all hope that one or more will be successful in the near future, but we cannot know until the trials are completed and the results published."