New Australian treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

4 April, 2024

A new Australian study suggests that the traditional treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which targets amyloid plaque in the brain, may not be necessary to improve cognitive function. Dr Gerhard Leinenga, from the University of Queensland, described the findings as an “important step” towards developing a more effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, challenges the traditional approach to Alzheimer’s research, which focuses on inhibiting and clearing amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques are clusters of proteins that can block communication between brain cells, leading to memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have focused on opening the blood-brain barrier with microbubbles that activate a cell in the brain and remove the plaques, Leinenga said. “However, we only used ultrasound in mouse models and observed a significant improvement in memory.”

According to Leinenga, the findings suggest that ultrasound without microbubbles can induce “long-term cognitive changes” in the brain and improve memory. “Ultrasound alone has direct effects on neurons, with increased plasticity and improved brain networks,” he said. “We believe that ultrasound increases the brain’s plasticity or resilience to plaques, although it does not necessarily eliminate them.”

According to the latest government figures, there are around 411,100 people living with dementia in Australia. Based on these figures, there are about 15 people with dementia per 1000 people in Australia, rising to 84 people with dementia per 1000 people aged 65 and over.

Alzheimer’s disease causes brain shrinkage and eventually brain cell death. It is the most common cause of dementia, manifested by loss of memory, thinking and behaviour. The average survival rate after diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is between three and eleven years. However, some patients live for more than twenty years. Professor Jürgen Götz, also from the Brain Institute of Queensland, emphasised that the effectiveness of ultrasound therapy depends on the frequency used. “We found that the higher frequency showed better results compared to the frequencies currently being tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s patients”.

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