Quickhoney for Reader's Digest
Andres Lozano, MD, PhD, can pinpoint the moment that he stumbled upon a therapy to potentially reverse Alzheimer’s disease. In 2003, when Dr. Lozano, the chair of the division of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, placed electrodes in the brain of an obese patient with the hope of controlling his appetite, the patient experienced a vivid memory of a trip to a park with a girlfriend decades earlier. Over the next month, the patient’s memory improved tremendously as Dr. Lozano continued deep brain stimulation (DBS) via electrodes controlled by a remote pacemaker.
The odd side effect prompted Dr. Lozano to ask a game-changing question: What if this chance observation could lead to a new therapy for Alzheimer’s?
Dr. Lozano is now conducting a phase-two trial in 42 adults who have a mild form of the disease. In Alzheimer’s, abnormal protein deposits are thought to disable certain circuits, creating “blackout” areas that have stopped burning glucose—the fuel of the brain. The theory: Stimulating the fornix, a key area for memory, will reestablish power to shut-down circuits.
So far, Dr. Lozano’s work indicates it’s possible to get these blackout spots to use glucose again, suggesting the areas could resume function. “We want to find out if we can put the brakes on the progression of the illness and stop it in its tracks,” Dr. Lozano says. “It might mean hanging on to a parent longer or not needing to send a loved one to a nursing home.”
He compares the exploration to going on a spaceship to a faraway galaxy. “These experiments are the first time a human being with these disorders has had these areas of the brain stimulated. We’re getting to the very core of what the brain does.”