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Ultrasound Technique Promises New Ways To Help Treat Alzheimer's Disease

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - In everyone's heads, a blood-brain barrier keeps infections and other bad stuff that might be in the blood from getting into the brain itself.

It's protective, normally a good thing, but sometimes it gets in the way of treating brain problems like Alzheimer's disease, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 56, David Shorr and his wife, Kim, were open to any new treatment that could help.

"'There's this trial, would you be interested?'" recalled Kim. "Without really knowing what it was, we said, 'sure.'"

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's is the buildup of toxic proteins called amyloid.

"Higher deposition of amyloid goes hand-in-hand with loss of function in Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Vibhor Krishna of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

One theory of Alzheimer's is that the blood-brain barrier prevents the brain from disposing of the toxic amyloid.

"Opening the blood-brain barrier allows us to access more of the brain tissue and be able to increase the effectiveness or bioavailability of the therapeutics," said Krishna.

That's how David Shorr became one of the first in the country to undergo a new procedure for early stage Alzheimer's disease.

The clinical trial tests a non-invasive procedure that uses MRI-guided imaging to target the area of the brain responsible for memory and cognition, where Alzheimer's patients have amyloid buildup.

A combination of focused ultrasound and a solution of tiny micobubbles opened David's blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells that protects the brain from infections in the blood.

The ultrasound pulses cause the micro-bubbles to expand and contract.

"The increase and decrease in size of these microbubbles mechanically opens the blood-brain barrier," said Krishna.

Researchers predict that simply opening this barrier may help clear amyloid from the brain. It may also help doctors deliver medications straight to the site of the disease in the future, something David and Kim hope will lead to new and effective treatment.

Doctors have also tried drugs to open the blood-brain barrier, but this ultrasound technique allows them to target the opening on a specific area rather than the whole brain.

One thing the trial will look for is how long the barrier stays open and whether it leads to any bleeding in the brain.

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