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Surprising Science

To Treat Alzheimer’s, a Pacemaker for the Brain

Johns Hopkins Medicine has implanted the first pacemaker for the brain in the US. The device generates tiny electrical impulses that fire into the brain’s memory region 130 times a second. 

What’s the Latest Development?

For the first time in the US, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have implanted a pacemaker-like device into the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease that stimulates the brain with electric impulses. “The surgery involves drilling holes into the skull to implant wires into the fornix on either side of the brain. The fornix is a brain pathway instrumental in bringing information to the hippocampus, the portion of the brain where learning begins and memories are made, and where the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear to arise.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The device has already been tested in Canada where, as part of a preliminary study in 2010, it was implanted into six patients with Alzheimer’s. “Researchers found that patients with mild forms of the disorder showed sustained increases in glucose metabolism, an indicator of neuronal activity, over a 13-month period. Most Alzheimer’s disease patients show decreases in glucose metabolism over the same period.” Paul Rosenberg, who is directing the trail at Hopkins, said: “Deep brain stimulation might prove to be a useful mechanism for treating Alzheimer’s disease, or it might help us develop less invasive treatments based on the same mechanism.”

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