‘Pacemaker’ for the Brain Could be Effective Treatment for Dementia
Following a recent study, scientists believe that a brain pacemaker could be used to treat dementia and a number of other conditions, when used to stimulate the prefrontal cortex – the front part of the brain, which is involved in memory retention.
Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, used rats to demonstrate that deep brain stimulation (DBS) – a technique already used to treat Parkinson’s disease – can boost memory and help to ward off diseases such as dementia. The experiment involved inserting a ‘pacemaker’ fitted with electrodes into the brains of middle-aged rats through holes drilled in the skull. The device sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain, and it was found that the rats receiving this treatment performed better in memory tests compared to those who had not been stimulated.
“Extensive studies have shown that rats’ brains and memory systems are very similar to humans,” says Professor Ajai Vyas, of Nanyang Technological University. “The electrodes are harmless to the rats’ brains, as they go on to live normally and fulfil their regular adult lifespan of around 22 months.”
The research showed that using DBS to stimulate certain parts of the brain can encourage the growth of brain cells – a growth which can reduce anxiety and depression, as well as boosting memory and overall brain function. The implications are that DBS could be used to treat a variety of mood disorders as well as dementia.
“The findings from the research clearly show the potential of enhancing the growth of brain cells using deep brain stimulation,” says Professor Vyas. “Around 60% of patients do not respond to regular antidepressant treatments and our research opens new doors for more effective treatment options.”
“No negative effects have been reported in such prefrontal cortex stimulation in humans, and studies have shown that stimulation also produces anti-depression effects and reduces anxiety,” says Professor Lim Wei, of Sunway University, Malaysia, who worked on the project while he was at Nanyang Technological University. “Memory loss in older people is not only a serious and widespread problem, but signifies a key symptom of dementia. At least one in ten people aged 60 and above in Singapore suffer from dementia, and this breakthrough could pave the way towards improved treatments for patients.”