Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) accounts for approximately 70% of dementia in older adults. AD is caused by an accumulation of beta amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. The first of these, beta-amyloid plaques consist of sticky beta-amyloid molecules, which sometimes get stuck together, forming plaques outside of brain cells, potentially preventing the cells from communicating with one another.
The second, the neurofibrillary tangles, take place inside the brain cell itself. The brain cells transport nutrients and other elements essential for cell survival from the cell body (the big round middle part of the brain cell in the picture above) and across the tunnel-like axons (the tail-like parts of the brain cell) using “railroad-like tracks” (or fibers). These fiber “tracks” need to be parallel to one another in order to properly transport the cell nutrients. Tau proteins make sure that the “tracks” are perfectly aligned. If the tau protein is damaged, then the fiber”tracks” become tangled up and are no longer aligned. If this happens then the cells are unable to get the proper nutrients, causing them to die.
In many patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, one or both of these processes can take place, causing the brain cells to die, creating lesions (organ tissue damage), and reducing brain size.
Some medications have been helpful in slowing the spread of the disease, however, until recently there were no treatments available to reverse brain damage and restore memory. An exciting and quite promising study just released in Science Magazine. Researchers in the University of Queensland in Australia used a non-pharmacological, non-invasive procedure of repeated scanning ultrasound (SUS) on mice with Alzheimer’s. This procedure essentially causes the brain to be flooded with glial cells, which are great at removing plaques and assisting the brain in recovery.
Compared to the mice that did not receive the SUS procedure (control group), the mice that were treated with SUS showed a significant reduction in beta-amyloid plaques. The mice also showed significant improvements in short term memory, which is usually affected by Alzheimer’s. This study suggests that the SUS procedure might be helpful in restoring brain functioning and either curing or greatly reducing the impact of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full time geek, who uses Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and chronic pain. If you would like to learn more about her work, please feel free to contact Dr. Janina Scarlet via Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, or via her website at www.superhero-therapy.com