Non-invasive potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

While controversial new drugs may help against Alzheimer’s, ultrasound joins the fight.

Key Points

  • Researchers continue to study controversial Aduhelm drug.
  • Combination therapies could counter Alzheimer’s development.
  • Ultrasound has been shown to clear damaging brain proteins linked to the disease.

In June, Connect reported that USA regulators had controversially approved a new drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It was the first time since 2003 that a drug has been approved for the disease.

The drug, Aduhelm, has been shown to reduce levels of beta-amyloid, the sticky plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

It’s believed Aduhelm works most effectively the sooner the patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, before damaging proteins, tau, can form.

In conjunction with the government approval, researchers are continuing to study Aduhelm and its effectiveness, as well as testing combination therapies involving the drug.

Aduhelm is under review by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), with a decision expected in early 2022.

Ultrasound research

Ageing is associated with impaired cognition and a reduction in the learning induced plasticity of the signalling between neurons called long-term potentiation (LTP).

About 400,000 people in Australia have dementia and numbers are projected to increase to one million by 2050, with ageing the single biggest risk factor.

The use of ultrasound may be a new treatment option in the future.

More commonly known for scanning in vitro babies and body parts, ultrasound is showing promise in clearing amyloid and tau.

Previous research has shown the long-term safety of ultrasound technology, and that pathological changes and cognitive deficits could be improved by using ultrasound to treat Alzheimer's disease.

As such, Australian researchers are examining alternative therapeutic approaches, including combining Aduhelm with ultrasound.

Promising results

Professor Jürgen Götz from The University of Queensland’s Brain Institute led a multidisciplinary team who showed low-intensity ultrasound effectively restored cognition.

The findings provide a potential new avenue for the non-invasive technology and will help clinicians tailor medical treatments that consider an individual’s disease progression and cognitive decline.

“Historically, we have been using ultrasound together with small gas-filled bubbles to open the almost-impenetrable blood-brain barrier and get therapeutics from the bloodstream into the brain,” Professor Götz said.

The new research involved a designated control group who received ultrasound without the barrier-opening microbubbles.

“The entire research team was surprised by the remarkable restoration in cognition,” he said.

“We conclude therapeutic ultrasound is a non-invasive way to enhance cognition in the elderly.”

Professor Götz said using ultrasound could enhance cognition independently of clearing amyloid and tau, which form plaques and tangles in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

‘’We are taking these findings and implementing them in our Alzheimer’s research as we go forward to clinical trials.’’

Source: The University Of Queensland