New Hope For Alzheimer's

carousel - A police officer points his weapon towards Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif., Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. Authorities say an explosion at this high school has forced evacuation of students and cancellation of classes. There are no reports of injuries. San Mateo police Lt. Mike Brunicardi says officers received several calls just after 8 a.m. Monday from teachers and staff reporting some kind of blast at the high school. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
A surgical experiment to see if shunts implanted in the brain are safe for treating Alzheimer's disease has researchers excited about the results.

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, not only are they safe, it seems, but in 12 patients tested, they were successful in slowing progression of a disease robbing millions of Americans of their golden years.

Dr. Gerald Silverberg, a neurosurgeon, says, "We saw improvement or stabilization in three months in the treated group as compared to the control group."

The findings were so promising, the FDA gave the go ahead to start large scale surgical trials across the country. Dr. Allan Levey is overseeing one of several studies.

Levey, a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine says, "What we'd like to accomplish with this research is to be able to stabilize the Alzheimer's disease so that the rate of progression is less. That would really be a big first step."

The use of shunts is based on the theory that poor circulation of spinal fluid is contributing to Alzheimer's disease. In the same way that running water stays clean, but still water grows stagnant. Poor circulation of spinal fluid allows toxins to build up in the brain.

In the surgery, doctors implant the shunt deep inside the brain where it basically becomes a low flow drainage system, constantly emptying spinal fluid into the abdomen and clearing toxins out of the brain.

David Coker, now 66-years old, opted for the shunt after his diagnosis. It's still too soon to tell if it's working.

Beverly Coker, his wife tells Kaledin, "We don't know if it's an answer, but its a chance..and you have to do what you can do cause there's not much else out there.

Dr. Gerald Silverberg says, "It will be the first time anything in Alzheimer's disease has altered the progression of the disease, and that may be very important."

Any brain surgery carries risks, but for David and Beverly Coker the risks are worth taking for a few more good years of smelling the flowers together.