A team of Toronto scientists is pushing Alzheimer's research in a radical new direction - testing whether electrodes implanted deep in patients' brains can jolt their memories into good working order.
The procedure, known as deep brain stimulation, aims to repair faulty nerve circuits with steady electrical pulses from two noodle-thin metal rods buried beneath the cortex. The rods connect to a cable that snakes out of the head and down the nect to a battery-operated regulator embedded below the collarbone. Most often, the DBS system is used to treat chronic pain and Parkinson's disease and in research against intractable depression.
But at the University Health Network - after an intense 18-month ethics review - researchers have peformed DBS as an experimental brain surgery on six patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The small, world-first trial, published Wednesday in the Annals of Neurology, found DBS is a relatively safe procedure for people with Alzheimer's, which affects about 500,000 Canadians. But no one knows yet if it will also prove to be an effective one.
Exactly how or why electricity might bolster a brain struck with Alzheimer's, however, is as mysterious as the disease itself -which after more than 100 years of study, still defies explanation.