MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) is conducting a study with the hopes of using its focused ultrasound technology to treat Alzheimer’s.

During this study, doctors injected microscopic bubbles into the patient’s bloodstream and exposed the bubbles to focused ultrasound from a treatment helmet attached to the MRI, temporarily causing the blood-brain barrier to open, according to an RNI press release. the technique works by opening the blood-brain barrier, which separates the bloodstream from the brain tissue and restricts medicines, immunotherapy, gene therapy and other therapeutics from entering the brain, researchers hope it can reduce plaques and lessens symptoms.

Dr. Rezai

The focused ultrasound technology, what we’ve been using to widely treat a number of conditions, for example, Parkinson’s and tremor. Almost three years ago we started a clinical trial using focused ultrasound treatment for those with early Alzheimer’s and Judy Pollack was the first patient in the U.S. to undergo that trial in Oct. 2018. Since that time we have now had seven patients who have undergone this focused ultrasound treatment for Alzheimer’s. We are optimistic about the potential for this technology for helping those with early Alzheimer’s disease. We’re seeing some elements where the Alzheimer’s progression seems to be improving with the earlier patients in the study, but we need to learn more about that.

Dr. Ali Rezai – Executive Chair, RNI

Using focused ultrasound, RNI has already treated Nanette Miller, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and she is now, less than a year later, on the road to potential recovery due to the expansion of the groundbreaking technique. This is according to the press release, which stated that the method lessened Miller’s symptoms.

Nanette and Frank Miller stand on a staircase at the WVU RNI building a day before the first of Nanette’s clinical trials for Alzheimer’s.

“I think the results are encouraging so far, we’re able to show — we’ve achieved the objectives of this study in terms of opening the blood-brain barrier, number one — safely and consistently and reproducibly,” Rezai said. “Number two, show a reduction in beta-amyloid plaques. And three we’re seeing some early signs of slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s.”

As a result of the initial successes, Rezai said the study had been expanded. Initially, RNI was targeting the hippocampus, he said, the part of the brain which handles memory and thinking. Now, because the first trial was a success, the Food and Drug Administration has permitted them to expand to other parts of the brain.

Dr. Rezai and his team at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute expanded a pioneering treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that uses focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier, a first in the world.

There are currently two new patients that are enrolled in the expanded study, Rezai said. The goal remains the same, to use the focused ultrasound to fight early-onset Alzheimer’s and other dementias.