By Leonie Mellor
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Queensland scientists have discovered a new treatment that could help restore the memory of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers at the University of Queensland's Brain Institute (QBI) trialled the technique on genetically engineered mice and found it restored their memory function to the same level as healthy mice.
PhD student Gerhard Leinenga, who had been working on the project for the past three years, said he was surprised at how much the mice improved in memory tests and was hopeful for future therapeutic treatment in humans.
"Definitely if we can improve the functioning in daily life and delay the progression of the disease, then it will have a huge benefit not just to the patients but to their families and carers," he said.
In Alzheimer's sufferers, a plaque of the toxic protein amyloid beta builds up within the blood-brain barrier.
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.Professor Jurgen Gotz
Mr Leinenga said they used ultrasound therapy combined with micro-bubbles to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier and clear the amyloid beta.
"In the Alzheimer's brain it's a toxic environment ... because there's this build up of amyloid beta peptide in their brains so when it's removed in mice, as we show, their memory improves," he said.
"But in humans it's more difficult because the human brain is more complex and the human cognition is more complex.
"It's a bit more difficult to say, but certainly we envisage that if you can reduce these levels perhaps early when they're starting to build up in a human brain, you could rescue the memory impairment."
The research has been published in the peer-reviewed Science Translational Medicine journal.
Mr Leinenga said the approach was a novel one and it did not rely on drugs.
"So far the drugs that are available only help improve memory performance a small amount for a short period of time," he said.
"It doesn't treat the underlying disease, it doesn't remove the amyloid beta peptide."
He said the team was in the process of designing a larger ultrasound device to test in the brains of sheep before trialling in humans.