Surgeons at Johns Hopkins have implanted the first investigational deep-brain stimulation device from Functional Neuromodulation, Ltd. (Toronto, Canada), in a study that aims to slow memory loss and cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s.
The idea of stimulating the fornix region of the brain came to University of Toronto neurosurgeon Andres Lozano, after he observed substantial memory improvement in a patient with neuromodulator implanted to control her obesity. About forty patients who are well enough to make decisions about their own treatment are expected to participate.
From a Hopkins press release:
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. The wires are attached to a pacemaker-like device, the “stimulator,” which generates tiny electrical impulses into the brain 130 times a second. The patients don’t feel the current, Rosenberg says.
For the trial, all of the patients will be implanted with the devices. Half will have their stimulators turned on two weeks after surgery, while the other half will have their stimulators turned on after one year. Neither the patients nor the doctors treating them will know which group gets an early or later start.