Researchers have had a pretty unsuccessful time of it trying to find a treatment for the commonest form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve been focusing drugs on a substance called amyloid which accumulates in the brains of people with the condition.
More recently there’s been an upscaled effort to target the other material which collects – inside brain cells rather than around them. It’s called tau. But the problem is that the brain is very good at keeping out drugs so even if a medication works in the test tube, there’s still the challenge of getting it into the brain.
That’s where research at the Queensland Brain Institute might pay dividends. In animals with Alzheimer’s-like disease, they’ve been able to show that injecting micro-bubbles of inert gas into the blood vessels of the brain and then hitting them with ultrasound waves, somehow opens a window through what’s called the blood brain barrier and seems to encourage the amyloid to disappear.
In animals this seems to restore memory. The other use for this window is to deliver drugs directly into the brain that might, for example target tau.
The research team is about to embark on early studies in people with Alzheimer’s disease, so it’ll be a while before it’s known whether the promise of ultrasound will be fulfilled.