As with deep brain stimulation therapies for other conditions, the key to improving its effectiveness may lie in slight changes in the location of the stimulation, or in the electrical parameters used to stimulate the brain. Researchers are now doing animal studies to explore how deep brain stimulation triggers the release of chemicals involved in neuron growth and survival. (Some drug treatments now being studied for Alzheimer’s are designed to replace or boost these chemicals.) The company is also planning a larger study to be conducted at multiple centers across the country, O’Connell reported at a neurotechnology conference in San Francisco on Monday.
Another approach comes from Israeli startup Neuronix, which has developed a noninvasive treatment for Alzheimer’s based on transcranial magnetic stimulation. This method involves activating specific regions of the brain with targeted magnetic pulses. Neuronix targets the stimulation to specific brain regions and combines it with cognitive training tasks designed to activate those regions. For example, if the device targeted a region known as Broca’s area, which is involved in language, the patient would alternate between brain stimulation and word-related tasks on a computer screen.
In a clinical trial conducted in Israel in which patients underwent treatment for 45 minutes, five days a week for six weeks, researchers found that treated patients showed significant improvement in cognitive function compared to those given a sham treatment. Those improvements held steady during three months when patients underwent one to three treatments per week.
A year later, with no treatment, patients had deteriorated somewhat but were still much better than they were when they started, said Neuronix CEO Eyal Baror at the conference. The benefits are moderate—perhaps in line with cholinesterase inhibitors, the most common class of drugs now used to treat Alzheimer’s, which can alleviate some symptoms but do little to slow the progression of the disease. The device is already approved for use in Europe, and the company is now planning clinical trials in the United States.