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Ultrasound may hold the key to future treatments of Alzheimer's disease

Focused Ultrasound could be instrumental in future treatments of Alzheimer's disease
Focused Ultrasound could be instrumental in future treatments of Alzheimer's disease 01:49

MIAMI - Ultrasound is commonly used for prenatal care and screenings; however, the technology and its uses are evolving and could potentially be the future of treating Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Low-Intensity Focused Ultrasound can be used to help disturb the blood-brain barrier. That barrier is meant to shield the brain from toxic substances in the blood.

Dr. Justin Sporrer at Baptist Health's Miami Neuroscience Institute said the idea behind using ultrasound is two-fold: it could potentially break up the protein tangles in the brain, and it could also be used to temporarily open up the blood-brain barrier to allow medication in.

A new study currently underway at Baptist Health may put us one step closer to minimally invasive treatment options.

"I think that Low Intensity Focused Ultrasound and High Intensity Focused Ultrasound are right at the doorstep of an era where neurosurgeons are going to become less and less necessary," Dr. Sporrer told CBS News Miami. 

"When we think of science fiction and how the future is going to be, we think of minimally invasive or non-invasive treatments that have been historically treated with surgery. And so even though I've spent a large portion of my life learning how to open up people's heads, I think that it would be great if we could look back on these times and say that was interesting that we were doing that instead of these new technologies that can cure diseases with no surgery," he added.

A potential alternative for Parkinson's patients    

After Alzheimer's, Parkinson's is the second most common neurodegenerative disease with more than a million people living with the disorder in the U.S. While Low Intensity Focused Ultrasound use is still being studied for people with the memory disorder, High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, or HIFU, has already proven to have success in the treatment of patients with Parkinson's, specifically "curing" their tremors.

"So the goal of the High Intensity Focused Ultrasound is to actually raise the temperature of these cells and burn them when we know what the problem area of the brain is," Dr. Sporrer said.

He showed CBS News Miami images done by Parkinson's patients before and after treatment. Where once their hands shook too much to stay within the lines, they were able to complete the task immediately after the HIFU treatment.

Baptist's clinical trial on LIFU is ongoing and CBS News Miami will continue to follow the developments as more patients take part.

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