Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Sets Medical Community Ablaze

Scientists have developed a way to allow drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease to penetrate the brain faster by temporarily breaking through its protective shield, the Associated Press reported.

Researchers reported earlier this month that while the novel method was only attempted in three patients, in all three it enhanced the removal of the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s.

Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute’s Dr. Ali Rezai of West Virginia University, the lead researcher on the study, said the goal of the experiment was to boost some new treatments for Alzheimer’s that typically “take a long time to work.”

The treatments take a long time due to the protective lining in the blood vessels of the brain that prevent substances like germs from leaching into the brain through the bloodstream.

However, this “blood-brain barrier” also prevents drugs that treat neurologic conditions like Alzheimer’s from leaching into the brain as well, which requires higher doses over longer periods to allow for enough medication to reach its target within the brain.

Using focused ultrasound technology, scientists can create temporary openings in the blood-brain barrier. Previous studies show that the openings created through focused ultrasound will reseal within 48 hours.

Dr. Rezai’s team took the method one step further, by simultaneously delivering the Alzheimer’s medication after creating an opening in the blood-brain barrier.

Some of the new Alzheimer’s medications aim to modestly slow the progress of the disease by clearing the beta-amyloid protein buildup in certain regions of the brain. However, the medications are administered through IV infusions every few weeks over the course of at least 18 months.

Dr. Rezai said their study aimed to see if they could find a way to clear the beta-amyloid plaque build-up “within a few months.”

The three participating patients, each with mild Alzheimer’s disease, were given monthly doses of the drug Aduhelm for six months. After each infusion, the researchers used the focused ultrasound method on specific parts of each patient’s brain where the beta-amyloid buildup was located. This opened the blood-brain barrier to allow more of the infused drug to enter.

PET scans showed that after six months, the reduction in buildup in the regions where the blood-brain barrier was breached was about 32 percent greater than in the regions where the barrier was not breached.