Early transcranial stimulation to slow Alzheimer’s symptoms

Early transcranial stimulation to slow Alzheimer’s symptoms

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Alzheimer’s is a leading cause of death and disability in the modern world. It is responsible for 60-70% of forms of dementia globally, and there are currently no therapies capable of reversing, or even interrupting, the progression of the symptoms of the disease once they have made their appearance. Intervening in the prodromal phases of Alzheimer’s could therefore prove fundamental to counteract cognitive decline before it produces irreversible damage in the brain. And it is the objective of research carried out in recent months at the San Raffaele in Rome: a project financed by the Airalzh Grants for Young Researchers program, which aims to study the possibility of intervening early on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s using a known non-invasive technique as transcranial pulse stimulation (TPS).

Technology

“TPS is an innovative technique that uses the effect of shock waves to precisely stimulate specific brain areas – he explains Claudia Carrarini, neuroscientist from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome who won one of the five Airalzh calls for young researchers of the 2023 edition – The treatment induces the neurons of the target area to release neurotransmitters, humoral and growth factors, and stimulates the development of new blood vessels. For this reason it is considered a promising strategy to counterbalance the damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

To date, it has been used mainly in cases of mild or severe Alzheimer’s, when the symptoms are already disabling, to a greater or lesser extent. Furthermore, there is not yet much scientific follow-up data, and it is therefore not well known how effective it can be in the long term, especially if applied in the initial stages of the disease. For this reason, Carrarini created his research project, entitled “Effects of Transcranial Pulsed Stimulation (TPS) on functional and structural brain connectivity in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s Disease”.

I study

The project involves the enrollment of 52 patients with Alzheimer’s in the prodromal phases, such as a diagnosis of mild cognitive decline (or MCI): “They are patients with mild cognitive symptoms which generally do not impact daily activities, but who risk progressing towards actual Alzheimer’s – underlines the researcher – What we want to understand is whether Tps can help slow down the progression of symptoms, and how long the effect can last”.

Patient enrollment – ​​he explains – has already begun, and now participants will undergo a battery of neurological and neuroimaging tests before starting the transcranial pulse stimulation sessions, which will be repeated five times a week for a month. At the end of the sessions the first check-up will then come, followed by another eight months later. A relatively long follow up, therefore, which should help to establish whether the procedure is able to effectively remodulate the neural connections in the target areas, and to produce tangible effects in terms of slowing down the patients’ cognitive decline.

The Airalzh calls

The research was made possible by the Airalzh Grants for Young Researchers call, with which Airalzh Onlus (Italian Alzheimer’s Research Association) finances the projects of five young scientists active in Alzheimer’s research every year. A project which, with the 300 thousand euros allocated for the 2023 call, has already dedicated 1.2 million euros to the financing of 26 research projects over the last four years. And which continues this year too with the 2024 call, dedicated as always to researchers under 40. For those interested in proposing their candidature, it is possible to find all the necessary information on the association’s website, at this link.

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