A team of researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at the University of Queensland in Australia have discovered a revolutionary treatment method against Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment, a non-invasive ultrasound, clears blockages in the brain made up of neurotic amyloid plaques which are the structures responsible for a decline in cognitive function and memory.

Alzheimer’s disease is a result the build up of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, both two separate kinds of lesions, in the brain. Amyloid plaques form between brain neurons, becoming dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules. These clusters are a sticky protein that clumps and forms plaques. Neurofibrillary tangles are found within the neurons themselves. They are created by defective tau proteins that bunch into a thick, insoluble mass. As a result, tiny filaments, called microtubules, get twisted, which in turn disrupts the transportation of essential material, such as nutrients and organelles.
There are no vaccines or preventative measures against Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have been focusing on treatments that break up the blockages of defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins. Using a specific type of ultrasound called a focused, therapeutic ultrasound, soundwaves are transmitted into the tissue of the brain. The soundwaves oscillate at top speed, effectively opening up the blood brain barrier, a layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulating microglial cells into action. Microglia are essentially the garbagemen of the brain. They are waste-removing cells that break down the clusters of beta-amyloids.

The researchers at QBI have successfully tested this method on mice, who showed a 75 percent memory function increase, with zero damage to the brain tissue. The mice showed memory improvement in three tasks; a maze, a recognition test, and a test requiring them to remember places to avoid. According to Jürgen Götz, who published a press release on behalf of QBI, “We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics. The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”

The QBI has received approval to expand the study, and conduct research using sheep. Human trials are anticipated in 2017.