Most of us have heard about pacemakers being implanted in coronary patients to regulate their heart’s rhythm, but have you ever heard about a pacemaker for the brain? I hadn’t either, until recently, so I did a little research. It seems deep brain stimulation could include the use of a pacemaker in some cases, and new research suggests it could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other memory problems.
Brain pacemakers are usually implanted in the head and electrical impulses are sent to specific areas of the brain, depending on what area of the brain that needs therapy. This treatment is called “deep brain stimulation” or “cortical stimulation.” Pacemakers may also be implanted on the outside of the brain, on or near the spinal cord, around cranial nerves, and on or near the peripheral nerves. Diseases that have found relief from this treatment include depression, migraines, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, tremors and epilepsy.
A researcher, Andres M. Lozano from Toronto Western Hospital, came upon the potential for treating Alzheimer’s with the brain pacemaker in 2003 while he was treating a patient for obesity. He found that when he sent signals to certain areas of the brain triggered memories in the patient. With follow-up tests he found that the patient’s memory had improved.
Lozano and his team then implanted brain pacemakers in six Alzheimer’s patients and studied them for three years. They found that three of the six patients had increased their memory capacity and showed less memory deterioration than expected.
Lozano issued a press release saying that, “While the study was not looking for efficacy, the results suggest that of the six patients, three may have done better than if the Alzheimer’s disease was allowed to run its course.”
Although three out of test group of six can’t be classified as a definitive conclusion, it does give cause for optimism. Lozano says he believes these results warrant a larger trial, since they know now that the procedure is safe. They are just trying to establish the funding to make it happen.
The use of deep brain stimulation, and brain implants, show just how much technology has advanced in the research to improve the quality of life people with chronic memory and pain. I look forward to hearing more about what they find on this.
From the Desk of Ron White
Discovery — Brain Pacemaker Could Improve Memory in Alzheimer’s Patients: http://news.discovery.com/tech/brain-pacemaker-could-improve-memory-in-alzheimers-patients.html
Wikipedia — Brain Pacemaker: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_pacemaker