WASHINGTON - Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem around the world. Fifty million people suffer from dementia, and in the next 30 years, that number is expected to triple.
Researchers are looking for ways to treat or prevent dementia, and a promising clinical trial is underway in the U.S.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but age is a huge risk factor. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels help stave off dementia as we grow older
As people around the world live longer, health agencies and researchers are looking for ways to prevent, stop or treat dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common types of dementia.
Promising clinical trial
David Shorr was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 56.He is about to undergo a new procedure that could treat early stage Alzheimer’s. He is with his doctor, Vibhor Krishna, a neurosurgeon at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
The procedure Shorr is about to have involves sound waves. Ultrasound waves target and open the blood-brain barrier — a protective layer that shields the brain from infections. But Krishna says the barrier also makes it hard to treat neurodegerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
“Opening the blood-brain barrier allows us to access more of the brain tissue and be able to increase the effectiveness or bioavailability of the therapeutics,” Krishna said.
Shorr and his wife, Kim, were willing to try any new treatment that might help with his dementia. Kim describes the couple’s reaction when they received a phone call inviting Shorr to participate in a clinical trial.
“There’s this trial. Would you be interested?” she said, describing the call. “And without really knowing what it was, we said, Sure.’”
Ultrasound targets protein buildup
Shorr became one of 10 patients enrolled in the study. The trial tests MRI-guided imaging to target the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. Krishna explains that’s where Alzheimer’s patients have a buildup of toxic proteins called amyloid.
“Higher deposition of amyloid goes hand in hand with loss of function in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
Krishna says this procedure might allow a patient’s own immune system to clear some of the amyloid.
In this procedure, ultrasound wave pulses cause microscopic bubbles to expand and contract in the brain.
“The increase and decrease in size of these microbubbles mechanically opens the blood-brain barrier,” Krishna said.
The patient is awake during the procedure.
Study could help others
Opening the barrier may one day allow doctors to deliver medication straight to the site of the disease.
Kim Shorr realizes her husband might not benefit from this treatment.
“We’re hopeful it can help him, but we also know maybe it will help somebody else,” she said.
Shorr is glad to be part of a study that could help others who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, even if it doesn’t help him.