How Scientists Are Personalizing Alzheimer’s Treatment

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been used for decades to treat neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, until now, every patient has received the same treatment. Now, researchers have developed a new approach to DBS treatments that could incorporate each individual’s brain activity.How Scientists Are Personalizing Alzheimer's Treatment

Learn more about the effects of DBS on brain health and how a targeted approach may be a more effective Alzheimer’s treatment method.

Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) sends electronic pulses through a brain with Alzheimer’s and has been shown to promote healthy activity in neural circuits ravaged by the disease. However, all patients currently receive the same DBS treatment with the same protocols, which can lead to different outcomes due to individual variations in brain signaling.

Dr. Doug Sharre, director of Division of Cognitive Neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said, “Deep brain stimulation implants have been used for over 30 years, mostly to treat the tremors of Parkinson’s disease patients.”

One study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that participants over the age of 65 who had Alzheimer’s and participated in DBS therapy had a slower progression of the disease than those who did not. Dr. Andres Lozano, neurosurgeon and the principal investigator of the study said:

“We are encouraged by these findings as they continue to help us identify who will benefit most from DBS [as an Alzheimer’s treatment] and learn more about this illness. With so few treatments available and the incidence of Alzheimer’s only expected to increase, we really need to fully explore all treatments that seem to be of benefit to patients.”

Using Deep Brain Stimulation to Personalize Alzheimer’s Treatment

Using DBS to treat neurodegenerative conditions is nothing new, but using it with a more targeted approach may be a game changer for people with Alzheimer’s. Lazaro Sanchez-Rodriguez from the University of Calgary, Canada, presented a new study in PLOS Computational Biology that investigated the possibility of personalized brain stimulation. Building a computational tool that took brain signaling measurements and MRI scans, the machine calculated optimal brain stimulation signals.

Their approach was based on a computational strategy called the “state-dependent Riccati equation control (SDRE)” to identify specific regions of the brain that would not benefit from DBS. They found that certain parts of the brain, the basal ganglia structures and limbic system, were often powerful targets.

“With our new framework, we are getting closer to erasing the knowledge gap between application and theory in brain stimulation,” Sanchez-Rodriguez says. “I think we will soon see a boom in the application of our framework and similar tools to study other diseases involving impaired brain activity, such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s.”

The tool will need to be refined and tested in animals before beginning clinical trials. As successful as the therapy has been in trials, DBS has its limitations, which include being costly and invasive. More research is also needed to fully understand how and why DBS acts as an Alzheimer’s treatment.

What do you think about using DBS as an Alzheimer’s treatment? Would you be willing to undergo this type of treatment? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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