Alzheimer’s drugs might get into the brain faster with new ultrasound tool, study shows

An Alzheimer’s patient undergoes focused ultrasound treatment with the WVU RNI team on Oct. 17 in Morgantown, W.Va. (Victor Finomore/WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute via AP)

These PET scan images provided by the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2024 show a reduction in amyloid-beta levels in an Alzheimer's patient after focused ultrasound treatment to open the blood-brain barrier after 26 weeks. Red is associated with higher levels of amyloid-beta levels. Scientists have found a way to help Alzheimer’s drugs seep inside the brain faster _ by temporarily breaching its protective shield. (New England Journal of Medicine via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists have found a way to help Alzheimer’s drugs seep inside the brain faster — by temporarily breaching its protective shield.

The novel experiment was a first attempt in just three patients. But in spots in the brain where the new technology took aim, it enhanced removal of Alzheimer’s trademark brain-clogging plaque, researchers reported Wednesday.


“Our goal is to give patients a head start,” by boosting some new Alzheimer’s treatments that take a long time to work, said Dr. Ali Rezai of West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, who led the study.

At issue is what’s called the blood-brain barrier, a protective lining in blood vessels that prevents germs and other damaging substances from leaching into brain from the bloodstream. But it also can block drugs for Alzheimer’s, tumors and other neurologic diseases, requiring higher doses for longer periods for enough to reach their target inside the brain.

Now scientists are using a technology called focused ultrasound to jiggle temporary openings in that shield. They inject microscopic bubbles into the bloodstream. Next, they beam sound waves through a helmetlike device to a precise brain area. The pulses of energy vibrate the microbubbles, which loosen gaps in the barrier enough for medications to slip in.

Prior small studies have found the technology can safely poke tiny holes that seal up in 48 hours. Now Rezai’s team has gone a step further — administering an Alzheimer’s drug at the same time.

Some new Alzheimer’s drugs, on the market or in the pipeline, promise to modestly slow worsening of the mind-robbing disease. They’re designed to clear away a sticky protein called beta-amyloid that builds up in certain brain regions.

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