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Biotech Innovations
February 11, 2020

Ultrasound Brain Stimulation Piloted in Alzheimer Study

JAMA. 2020;323(6):499. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.0471

Patients with probable Alzheimer disease (AD) had sustained memory improvements 3 months after ultrasound brain stimulation in a small pilot study. The noninvasive technique, called transcranial pulse stimulation (TPS), is designed to apply ultrashort ultrasound pulses to small brain areas.

The study took place at a site in Austria and another in Germany and involved 35 participants who continued to receive optimized standard care. Researchers applied sonic pulses to patients’ skulls with a handheld transducer during sessions over 2 to 4 weeks. For the Austrian group only, AD-relevant brain regions were targeted using infrared camera neuronavigation.

Writing in Advanced Science, researchers reported that both groups’ neuropsychological scores significantly improved compared with baseline and remained stable during the follow-up period. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) performed with the Austrian group showed corresponding memory network upregulation. The treatments were well tolerated with no major adverse effects, and no new intracranial pathologies were apparent on MRI.

“Our promising pilot data justify larger clinical studies with Alzheimer’s patients,” the study’s lead author, Roland Beisteiner, MD, of the Medical University of Vienna, said in an email. He added that “TPS may be used for all diseases where activation of viable neurons may support neuroplastic regeneration of diseased brain functions,” including Parkinson disease and stroke.

Unlike transcranial magnetic stimulation and other noninvasive electrophysiological approaches under investigation, TPS can target deep brain areas. As an add-on to existing therapies, the novel treatment “generates a new chance for the patient,” Beisteiner said.

Future research is needed to elucidate the technique’s precise mode of action and whether localized or widespread stimulation is optimal, according to coauthor Mark Hallett, MD, of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.