CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina are in the early stages of a new experimental treatment that will hopefully slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease through three brain stimulation sessions.
About 95,000 South Carolinians ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to surge by more than 26 percent in the next 3 years, according to new data just released by the Alzheimer’s Association.
MUSC’s experimental Alzheimer’s treatment involves using a painless magnetic pulse to stimulate the brain, according to one of the lead researchers on the project, Dr. Stephanie Fountain-Zaragoza.
“We don’t expect it will stop or reverse Alzheimer’s Disease, which really is a disease of damage to brain cells,” she says. “What we do hope is that by using it early in the disease course that we may be able to slow the progression. In doing so, we give people more time where they’re able to continue doing the things they love to do and also hopefully improve their quality of life.”
This treatment is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS. It’s currently FDA-approved to treat depression and other mental health conditions, Fountain-Zaragoza says.
TMS promotes neuroplasticity and encourages the brain to more easily adapt and create new connections, so the research project at MUSC is exploring if TMS could be used to improve cognition, memory and thinking abilities for people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), the stage between normal, age-related forgetfulness and the more serious decline of dementia.
“I think in the future once we do have disease-modifying drugs that are very effective and can stop the disease, that still won’t be used until people have experienced some declines,” she says. “So something like TMS would be a great adjunct treatment to help rehabilitate some of the loss they may have experienced.”
MUSC is still in the early stages of the research and is a ways away from knowing the treatment’s efficacy or from getting FDA approval, according to Fountain-Zaragoza. The team does have plans for larger, more rigorous trials in the future.
Funding for the project comes from the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Center of Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation and the New Vision Research Foundation.
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