October 13, 2017
There are few diseases as grim and tragic as Alzheimer’s disease. Slowly over years, the memories that define an individual are stripped away, and researches have long searched for a treatment to, if not cure, at least stifle or slow its progression. As a progressive degenerative disease, if Alzheimer’s can be slowed or stopped, it would be counted as a significant victory.
After a pilot study of ten patients, the Weston Brain Institute has now funded the first large placebo-controlled double-blind study of a new treatment for the disease. The treatment is known as, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), and it has shown promising signs in the original pilot study.
The Treatment Itself
rTMS is administered to a patient through an electromagnetic coil. The coil is placed on the head of the patient, and it emits magnetic pulses in an attempt to activate neurons in the brain. Ultimately, this technique hopes to improve the function of these neurons and counteract the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s.
Patients who undergo this treatment report few and mild side effects. The most common of these is a mild headache that can be treated with any over-the-counter pain medication. In addition, patients have reported feelings of light headedness, temporary hearing problems, and tingling in the face, jaw, or scalp. It is important to note that rTMS comes with a small risk of seizures, so it has been deemed unfit for patients with a history of epilepsy.
rTMS as a Treatment for Depression
This treatment was not originally designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. rTMS has actually been in use since 1985 as a treatment for major depression. However, the FDA stipulates that it should be used when other treatments have proven ineffective.
Despite its decades of use, there is little data to prove its long-term success, and anecdotes from patients will vary wildly. Some will claim it worked where no other treatments could, while others will say that it had little effect.
In the initial pilot study of the treatment, seven out of ten volunteers received the rTMS treatment once a quarter for a year and a half. During that time, results showed that these patient’s neural capabilities did not decline. However, once the treatment was halted due to lack of funding, degeneration began once again.
These are very encouraging results, and the treatment appears to be effective when applied at early and moderate stages of the disease. But the data is too limited at this time to say anything conclusive about this healthcare technology.
The Current Study and Future Areas of Refinement
The study to be conducted by the Weston Brain Institute will be an important step forward in determining the efficacy of the solution, but there are plenty of other areas of the technology that need refinement. Research needs to be conducted on how to improve the electromagnetic coils, where to target the magnetic pulses, and so on. The hopes of these researchers is that positive test results will prompt further funding and further research.
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