"Brain pacemaker" offers new hope to Alzheimer's patients


(CBS News) A surgical procedure may offer new hope for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, according to scientists at Johns Hopkins University. Johns Hopkins researchers recently implanted the same brain pacemaker that has been used to effectively treat tens of thousands of patients with Parkinson's disease in a patient with Alzheimers.

The treatment is similar to the deep brain stimulation that has alleviated Parkinson's patients and delivers electrical charges into the parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Dr. Paul Rosenberg, an Alzheimer's specialist at Johns Hopkins who is part of the first clinical trial of this treatment in the U.S., said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the results, Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Rosenberg outlined the treatment, explaining, "You put two wires in the brain, in the part of the brain that we know is involved in memory ... it looks like a pacemaker, it's a little battery that fits under your shoulder blade," Rosenberg said. "It puts electricity through these wires, these wires run along the natural wires of the brain, which feed your memory and they actually stimulate those parts of the brain," he added.

He likened it to Parkinson's treatment using a similar device, saying "the equipment is the same, the surgery is similar, it's just a different part of the brain."

Rosenberg said the treatment has led to some promising results in a pilot clinical trial in Canada, involving six patients. The patients, he said, "did somewhat better with their memory" and "did great with brain metabolism." He went on to add that brain metabolism typically degenerates in Alzheimer's patients, but it actually improved in patients in the Canadian trial.

The treatment is "not that invasive," according to Rosenberg, although it does require "a couple of holes" drilled into the patient's skull. And while Rosenberg admits that recent Alzheimer's drug trials have led to a "a number of disappointing results," he says the more mechanical "pacemaker" treatment would not replace drug therapy, but could go together with it.

Though initial findings have been promising, Rosenberg said they are still in the clinical trial phase of their research and that the treatment may be more widely available "a few years down the line."