By Stephanie Stahl


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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There could be a new weapon in the battle against the brain-robbing disease of Alzheimer’s. With the aging population, Alzheimer’s numbers continue to grow as the disease slowly robs memory and thousands of lives. Currently, treatments are limited, but there is some promising research, including one project that appears to be reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Remembering recipes was a struggle for Judi, who was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

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“There’s really nothing that fixes this,” she said. “It will get worse over time.”

Knowing the limits of the medications currently available, Judi decided to test a new experimental treatment — an MRI-guided ultrasound that targets the hippocampus, a part of the brain important to memory.

Microscopic bubbles are injected into the blood stream and the ultrasound causes the bubbles to shake.

This temporarily opens up the blood brain barrier, that’s a protective shield, but it can also trap harmful components, like plaques, the sticky clumps of protein, that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers believe this therapy activates the brain’s immune system, clears the plaques and improves symptoms.

“It requires tremendous expertise, it requires sophisticated equipment,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, of the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.

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A potential risk would be unwanted substances entering the brain. Other studies have shown the procedure was safe, but patients have to have their head attached to an immobilizing halo for the treatment.

“They were little bolt things that went in my head, was the worst thing I worried about,” said Judi.

She’s completed three sessions of targeted ultrasound, and now will be followed for five years.

“I really had significant improvement in cognitive memory that was pretty impressive,” said Judi.

“This is an investigational study, but it may not help her, so she’s a very brave person,” said Rezai.

Judi sees herself as a pioneer, and hopes this intervention moves forward.

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“It was something that I wanted to do. I can’t change my diagnosis, I can’t change what the trajectory is going to be, but I can change what may be in the future for other people,” she said.

The research project is being conducted at West Virginia University. If the results continue to be positive, the treatment could be expanded into other centers.

Stephanie Stahl