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U.S. Alzheimer’s Patient Implanted with Deep Brain Pacemaker

Brain scan (National Institute of Mental Health)

(National Institute of Mental Health)

A patient in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore received an implanted deep-brain stimulation device, the first such surgery in the U.S. The implant is part of a clinical trial testing the deep brain stimulation device for Alzheimer’s disease patients made by Functional Neuromodulation Ltd. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The device is surgically implanted like a heart pacemaker and delivers mild electrical pulses to precisely targeted areas of the brain. The technology has been around since the mid-1990s, and is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, as well as refractory epilepsy (approved only in Europe and Canada). Functional Neuromodulation says some 85,000 people worldwide have received deep brain stimulation therapy.

The Johns Hopkins patient is part of a new clinical trial testing deep brain stimulation to slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms such as memory loss. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and, says Johns Hopkins, many drug treatments have not been successful in recent clinical trials.

A preliminary safety study in 2010 with six Alzheimer’s disease patients  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.

The primary objective of the new phase 1 trial is also safety, but a secondary objective seeks to estimate treatment effects in patients with mild probable Alzheimer’s disease. The research team, led by Andres Lozano at University of Toronto, expects to enroll up to 40 patients in the trial, at sites in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona, as well as Johns Hopkins and University of Toronto.

Lozano is also a co-founder of Functional Neuromodulation, which has offices in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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