An FDA-approved study at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center
hopes to determine if using a brain pacemaker can improve cognitive and
behavioral functioning in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
During a five-hour surgery last October, Kathy Sanford
became the first Alzheimer’s patient in the United States to have a
pacemaker implanted in her brain.
She is the first of up to 10 patients who will be enrolled in the study.
Dr. Douglas Scharre, neurologist and director of the division
of cognitive neurology, and Dr. Ali Rezai, neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience program, both at Wexner Medical
Center, are conducting the study.
“If the early findings that we’re seeing continue to be
robust and progressive, then I think that will be very promising and
encouraging for us,” says Rezai, who also directs the Center for Neuromodulation at Ohio State. “But so far we are cautiously optimistic.”
The deep brain stimulation implant is similar to a cardiac
pacemaker device with the exception that the pacemaker wires are implanted in
the brain rather than the heart.
“Basically, the pacemakers send tiny signals into the brain
that regulate the abnormal activity of the brain and normalize it more,” says
Rezai. “Right now, from what we’re seeing in our first patient, I think the
results are encouraging, but this is research. We need to do more research and
understand what’s going on.”
The study, which will enroll people with mild or early-stage
Alzheimer’s disease, will help determine if DBS has the potential to improve
cognitive, behavioral and functional deficits. Sanford continues to be
evaluated to determine the effectiveness of the technology, says Rezai. She
says she volunteered for the study to help others avoid the angst she has
suffered as Alzheimer’s slowly disrupted her life.
“I’m just trying to make the world a better place,” says
Sanford. “That’s all I’m doing.”
Her father, Joe Jester, says he is proud that his daughter
is participating in the study, and is pleased to see her showing improvements.
“This study seemed to just give us hope,” said Jester. “I
guess we were at the place where you just don’t do anything and watch the
condition deteriorate over the years, or try to do something that would give us
hope and might stop the progression of this disease.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of degenerative
dementia, afflicting about 5.5 million Americans and costing more than $100
billion per year, ranking it the third costliest disease in terms of health
care expenditures in the United States. Alzheimer’s disease – which has no cure
and is not easily managed – becomes progressively disabling with loss of
memory, cognition, worsening behavioral function, in addition to a gradual loss
of independent functioning, says Scharre.
The Ohio State neurology team is nationally renowned for
expertise in dementia and Alzheimer’s care and research. In addition, the
neuromodulation team at Ohio State are pioneers in the use of DBS to treat
Parkinson’s disease, as well as exploring the use of DBS for other neurological
and neurobehavioral conditions. Researchers at the Neuromodulation Center are
completing a study of DBS in patients with traumatic brain injuries, and have
initiated a study of DBS for treating obesity. The Alzheimer’s study is
scheduled to be completed in 2015.