Dan Miller, a 61-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease, participated in an experimental treatment using ultrasound to target a specific area in his brain. The procedure, led by neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute in West Virginia, aimed to slow down the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. In the trial, Miller and two other patients received an IV treatment of aducanumab, a drug targeting beta amyloid proteins, before undergoing focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier and allow the drug to penetrate the brain more effectively.
The experimental treatment involved patients wearing a specialized helmet and lying on an MRI table, receiving an IV solution with microscopic bubbles. When exposed to ultrasound energy, the bubbles vibrated and temporarily opened the blood-brain barrier, facilitating the delivery of therapeutic drugs. The approach aimed to reduce beta amyloid proteins, commonly associated with Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline. While the trial patients reported no sensations during the procedure, safety precautions were crucial to avoid complications like bleeding and brain swelling.
Although the ultrasound treatments ended in July, there have been no significant changes in the patients’ ability to perform daily activities. Brain scans showed a clear reduction in beta amyloid proteins, with the targeted areas experiencing a 50% greater reduction than those targeted by infusion alone. The success in clearing beta amyloid plaque faster has led to FDA approval for using ultrasound to attempt restoring brain cell function lost to Alzheimer’s.
Beyond Alzheimer’s treatment, Dr. Rezai and his team are exploring the application of ultrasound for addiction treatment. Initially inspired by brain implants used in Parkinson’s disease, Rezai developed a system involving ultrasound to target the reward center in the brain, specifically the nucleus accumbens, associated with addiction. The ultrasound treatment showed promise in suppressing cravings and anxiety related to addiction.
The innovative use of ultrasound in neurological treatments represents a step toward addressing complex disorders like Alzheimer’s and addiction. Dr. Rezai’s continued research aims to expand the application of ultrasound to other brain disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obesity, with the goal of making meaningful advancements in medical treatment.