A BREAKTHROUGH in treating Alzheimer's disease could help about 51,000 people across Queensland who are living with dementia.
A new non-invasive way to treat Alzheimer's disease has been discovered at the University of Queensland, where researchers have used an ultrasound to activate cells that exist in the brain to fight off the plaques that cause memory loss and cognitive decline.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 70% of all cases, and researchers hope people with early signs of the disease will one day be able to undergo only a few ultrasound treatments on the brain to get rid of it.
So far researchers at UQ's Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research have used ultrasounds to restore memory loss in mice.
They studied how aging mice were able to find their way around mazes and recognise objects in a cage after undergoing the treatment.
Queensland Brain Institute director Perry Bartlett said the ultrasound treatment triggered microglial cells into action to digest and remove unwanted plaques, known as amyloids that lead to memory loss.
"This is showing that you can clear amyloid from the brain effectively but moreover, get recovery of that animal's loss of cognitive impairment," Mr Bartlett said.
He said the microglial cells had the capacity to clear the brain of amyloid plaques, but "for some reason, they're not doing it".
"They've discovered a way of activating those cells to do it. So it opens up an entirely new field of approaches to being able to clear the brain."
The next step is to test the process in sheep and, if successful, go to clinical trials.
Bur Professor Bartlett was confident the treatment would be translatable to humans.
Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research director Jurgen Gotz said it could take another three to five years before it reached the clinical stage.
But he said there was still a lot of work to be done, including safety studies into whether the treatment affected the brain in the long term, and how much treatment was necessary.
He said the mice were treated once a week over either six or eight weeks.
Number of people in each area with dementia.
Data is from Dementia Estimates and Projections Report
- Mackay - about 1400 people with dementia, about 2.5% of Qld dementia population
- Central Queensland (Rockhampton and Gladstone) - about 2000 people with dementia, about 4% of Qld dementia population
- Fraser Coast - about 1700 people with dementia, about 3.1% of Qld dementia population
- Sunshine Coast (including Gympie) - about 6400 people with dementia, about 12% of Qld dementia population
- Wide Bay - about 1600 people with dementia, about 3% of Qld dementia population
- Toowoomba and Darling Downs - about 3200 people with dementia, about 6% of Qld dementia population
- West Moreton South Burnett - about 2400 people with dementia, about 4.5% of Qld dementia population
- Total Queensland figure: More than 51,000 Queenslanders have dementia. Projections show this could get up to 171,100 Queenslanders by 2050.
- About 250,000 people in Australia have either dementia or Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, this is expected to be almost 1 million.