MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — West Virginia University scientists used MRI scans to show what happens when ultrasound waves target a specific area of Alzheimer’s patient’s brains. They concluded that this treatment may induce an immunological healing response, a potential breakthrough for a disease that accounts for up to 80% of all dementia cases.
Rashi Mehta, a researcher with the WVU School of Medicine and Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, led the study that appears in the journal “Radiology.”
“Focused ultrasound is an innovative technique and new way of approaching brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease,” said Mehta, an associate professor in the Departments of Radiology, Neuroscience and Neuroradiology. “Novel techniques are needed for Alzheimer’s disease since traditional approaches have not proven effective.”
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In 2018, WVU launched a first-of-its-kind clinical trial to explore the use of focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.
“The blood-brain barrier has long presented a challenge in treating the most pressing neurological disorders,” said Ali Rezai, the executive chair of RNI and principal investigator of the clinical trial. “The ability to noninvasively and reversibly open the blood-brain barrier in deep brain areas, such as the hippocampus, offers a new potential in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The ultrasound targeted the hippocampus in particular because it plays a large role in learning and memory.
Mehta used MRI with contrast-enhancement dye to observe the changes that took place in the brains of three early-stage Alzheimer’s patients — ages 61, 72 and 73 — who underwent the ultrasound treatment.
She observed that the dye moved along the course of draining veins following the procedure.
“This imaging pattern was unexpected and enhances our understanding of brain physiology,” she said. “The glymphatic system, which is a fluid-movement and waste-clearance system that’s unique to the brain, has been studied in animals, but there is controversy about whether this system truly exists in humans. The imaging pattern that we discuss in the paper offers evidence not only to support that the system does likely exist in humans but that focused ultrasound may modulate fluid movement patterns and immunological responses along this system.”
Mehta and her colleagues’ analysis of the MRI scans suggests that an immunological healing response may occur around the draining veins following the procedure.