Surgeons at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have implanted the first pacemaker into the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient as part of a 10-person, FDA-approved study to see if using a brain pacemaker can help improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients.
The study is looking at the response of deep brain stimulation, or DBS, which is the same technology that has been used worldwide to help people with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. The hope is that the DBS will help improve cognitive and behavioral functioning for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers hope that implanting a pacemaker into the frontal lobe of the brain will help stimulate the neural nerve networks that are involved in cognition and behavior. When placed in the brain, the DBS implant is similar to those used in cardiac surgeries, except the wires are implanted in the brain rather than in the heart.
The study, conducted by Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist and the director of the division of cognitive neurology and Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience program at the Wexner Medical Center will enroll people who have been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
“If the early findings that we’re seeing continue to be robust and progressive, then I think that will be very promising and encouraging for us,” says Rezai. “But so far we are cautiously optimistic.”
“Basically, the pacemakers send tiny signals into the brain that regulate the abnormal activity of the brain and normalize it more,” he added. “Right now, from what we’re seeing in our first patient, I think the results are encouraging, but this is research. We need to do more research and understand what’s going on.”
The patient who received the implant is Kathy Sanford. Her father, Joe Jester, said, “This study seemed to just give us hope. I guess we were at the place where you just don’t do anything and watch the condition deteriorate over the years, or try to do something that would give us hope and might stop the progression of this disease.”
The research study will accept another nine patients and is expected to end in 2015. Other Ohio State teams are looking into the effectiveness of DBS for traumatic brain injury and obesity.
To learn more about the Deep Brain Stimulation for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease clinical trial, please visit the study’s page at ClinicalTrials.gov website, or call the Ohio State University research team direct at: 614-293-HERO (4376).