Researchers at the UK Dementia Research Institute have developed technology that allows them to stimulate deep inside the brain, without the need for surgery.
Neuroscientists have been testing a new, non-invasive technique called ‘temporal interference’ that can help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s using electrical currents, as opposed to drugs or surgery.
Alzheimer’s disease impacts the communication of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Treating this deep area of the brain with electricity would typically involve surgically implanting probes, however the new technique uses electrodes on the outside of the scalp. This allows doctors to target the hippocampus, and with gentle stimulation, shape its activity.
The approach has been successfully trialled with 20 healthy volunteers at Imperial College London and the University of Surrey.
Their initial findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, revealed that when tested on healthy brains, memory was boosted, and MRI scans have shown that the procedure is both safe and effective, with more pilot tests now underway.
“The strength of the stimulation is no different than if you were to hold a nine volt battery between your fingers,” explains Dr Nir Grossman, from Imperial College London. “It is safe. Most of the participants will not even feel anything.”
86-year-old patient Kenneth Bromwich has been testing the electrode kits, which could potentially be added to the toolkit of treatments for Alzheimer’s, and work alongside medication and other therapies. In the future, it’s hoped the wearable tech can be used by patients in their homes, in the form of a specially-designed helmet.
According to researchers, temporal interference (TI) has the potential to help with a wide range of neurological conditions. It could also accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic targets within the brain.
‘Inside Neurology: Our Unique Brain’
‘Inside Neurology: Our Unique Brain’ is an upcoming ITN Business news-style programme that will raise awareness of the positive impact of work taking place in this space and the technological innovations and research around brain conditions.
The programme launches this December — head here to find out more.