How ultrasound therapy could rewrite the playbook for Alzheimer’s treatment

Apr 03, 2024
The mechanisms behind ultrasound therapy could lead to tailored treatment strategies for maximising cognitive improvement in patients. Source: Getty Images.

In a groundbreaking discovery, researchers at the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have shattered long-held beliefs about the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Led by Dr. Gerhard Leinenga and Professor Jürgen Götz, the team has demonstrated that targeting amyloid plaque in the brain may not be the key to unlocking cognitive improvement through ultrasound therapy.

Amyloid plaques, notorious for obstructing communication between brain cells and contributing to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, have been the primary focus of therapeutic interventions in the field. However, Dr. Leinenga’s and Professor Götz’s study challenges this traditional approach.

Their research, conducted on mouse models, utilised scanning ultrasound alone, eschewing the use of microbubbles commonly employed to open the blood-brain barrier. Remarkably, they observed significant memory enhancement, suggesting that ultrasound alone induces cognitive changes that correlate with memory improvement.

Dr. Leinenga explained that ultrasound directly affects neurons, increasing plasticity and improving brain networks, thereby enhancing resilience to plaques.

“Ultrasound on its own has direct effects on the neurons, with increased plasticity and improved brain networks,” he said.

“We think the ultrasound is increasing the plasticity or the resilience of the brain to the plaques, even though it’s not specifically clearing them.”

Professor Götz said the study revealed that the efficacy of ultrasound therapy varied depending on the frequency used.

“We tested two types of ultrasound waves, emitted at two different frequencies,” he said.

“We found the higher frequency showed superior results, compared to frequencies currently being explored in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

The implications of this research are promising. The findings are expected to be incorporated into Professor Götz’s ongoing safety trial, which utilises non-invasive ultrasound to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Leinenga emphasised that understanding the mechanisms behind ultrasound therapy could lead to tailored treatment strategies for maximising cognitive improvement in patients, marking a significant advancement towards personalised therapies for neurodegenerative disorders.

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