Researchers in Australia have devised a technique using ultrasound to clear toxic protein clumps in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to New Atlas.
After successful treatments in mice, they are ready to begin the first phase of human trials.
The ultrasound treatment was first developed back in 2015 at the University of Queensland. The initial research was working to find a way to use ultrasound to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier with the goal of helping dementia-battling antibodies better reach their target in the brain. However, early experiments with mice surprisingly revealed the targeted ultrasound waves worked to clear toxic amyloid protein plaques from the brain without any additional therapeutic drugs.
"The ultrasound waves oscillate tremendously quickly, activating microglial cells that digest and remove the amyloid plaques that destroy brain synapses," explained Jürgen Götz, one of the researchers on the project back in 2015. "The word 'breakthrough' is often mis-used, 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."
After further testing and refining, the researchers have shown the technique to be successful in restoring memory function in several types of rodents, “including an older mouse model designed to resemble human brains of 80 to 90 years old.”
In practical terms, the treatment is still probably close to a decade away from real-world clinical applications, and that would be assuming everything is successful between now and then. However, if this technique proves effective it could present an incredibly simple way for dementia to be treated. In an interview with ABC News in Australia, Jürgen Götz envisages a future where small, personal ultrasound devices could be rolled out for people to use in almost a preventative way.