The formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are thought to contribute to the degradation of the nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain and the subsequent symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

One of the biggest markers of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of amyloid plaques between these nerve cells in the brain. Amyloid is a general term for the protein fragments that the body produces normally. A beta amyloid is a sticky protein fragment that has been cut from an amyloid precursor protein. In the brain of a healthy individual, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated, but in Alzheimer’s disease, the fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques.

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia have been studying ultrasound technology to clear the amyloid plaques. The technique uses a particular type of ultrasound called a “focused therapeutic ultrasound,” which beams noninvasive sound waves into the brain tissue. The fast oscillations of sound waves gently open up the blood brain barrier, the layer of the brain that protects it against bacteria, and stimulates the brain’s microglial cells to activate. These microglial cells are basically waste-removal cells, so they are able to remove the beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study found that by using this ultrasound technology on test mice, a 75 percent memory function was fully restored, with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue. Researchers found that the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks: a maze, recognition of new objects and a test to get the mice to remember the places they should avoid.

Researchers were pleased with early outcomes to the new, innovative nondrug therapeutic approach to finding prevention or cure for the disease. While using the term “breakthrough” is cautionary, the researchers did feel that the outcome of the study fundamentally changes the understanding of how to treat the disease.

While the use of ultrasound technology is a very promising method to treat the disease, more research and study needs to be performed. The team at the Queensland Institute plans to start trials using higher animal models such as sheep and hopes to get human trials initiated sometime in 2017.


Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.