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UF takes part in new Alzheimer’s study


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The University of Florida, along with four other research institutions in North America, was chosen as a study site for test trials of deep brain stimulation as a possible way to treat Alzheimer’s disease. John Hopkins Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Toronto Western Hospital and the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., are also study sites.

Kelly Foote,  associate professor of neurosurgery at UF,  said deep brain stimulation is a treatment for brain circuitry disorders that try to change or disrupt the brain circuit function.

“You might imagine your brain as a living super computer, and we can manipulate certain circuits by stimulating them,” he said.

Foote said the implanted device was mainly used for Parkinson’s disease, to cover up “bad signals.” These bad signals come from the control system for movement when it malfunctions, he said. So the device implanted by surgeons sends electrodes to deliver “white noise” to cover up the bad signal that’s messing up the function of the movement network.

“Now, we’re not trying to cover up a bad signal that’s interfering with the normal function of any otherwise intact network,” he said. “Now we’re trying to address a network that’s deteriorating by delivering electrical stimulation that excites that network.”

The surgery involves drilling holes into the skull and implants wires into the fornix on either side of the brain.  The implanted device works similar to a pacemaker in the heart, electrically stimulation the brain, according to an press release from John Hopkins Medicine.

Stacy Merritt, assistant director of clinical trials at the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration at UF, said the study is experimental, so they’re not sure what the outcome will be. But, she said, it’s designed to estimate the potential benefit in patients who have mild Alzheimer’s.

“By stimulating the fornix people may be able to reverse their memory loss, have the memory loss stop right where it is or improve their memory,” she said.

In the experimental procedures, Foote said, the rats and a few human beings who have had the procedure to reverse Alzheimer’s, their hippocampus became bigger instead of smaller.  The hippocampus is involved in forming, storing, and processing memory, according to Merriam-Webster.

“The exact opposite of what you expect with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Foote said.

Foote, who has performed the surgery more than 800 times for Parkinson’s disease and other circuit disorders, said UF has had a deep brain stimulation program for more than 10 years. He said this is why he thinks UF was chosen with four others to perform the study.

The ADvance study will be tested on those with mild Alzheimer’s who are between the ages of 55 and 80, according to an ADvance brochure.

For more information or to see if you are eligible for the study at UF or another study site, visit the ADvance website.

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