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Science: 

Mice regain memories in Alzheimer’s breakthrough

The memories came flooding back to the mice hit with ultrasound.

The memories came flooding back to the mice hit with ultrasound.

Alzheimer’s disease – one of the crueler illnesses that can befall us as a species – is one step closer to being curable, thanks to a superb breakthrough at the University of Queensland. Researchers in the university’s Brain Institute have found that they can restore memories to mice with the use of non-invasive ultrasound.

“The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach,” Professor Jurgen Gotz told CNET, reminding us exactly why we idolize scientists as much as we do.

You may be wondering how they managed to test the memory of mice, and sadly for us, the methods are a lot less adorable than you’d hope, but usefully for humanity, far more scientifically valid. First, amyloid-β – the peptide that has been associated with Alzheimer’s dementia – was deposited into the brains of mice.

These test rodents were then treated with repeated ultrasound, which activated microglial cells which proved highly effective in removing the amyloid-β plaque which destroys synapses. Improvements were observed in 75 percent of the mice exposed to ultrasound, and they then went on to perform much better in three memory tests. In fact, in a Y Maze, a novel object recognition test and an active place avoidance test, the previously forgetful mice performed at the same level as healthy rodents.

Now, without wanting to get too excited, this is a major deal. True, mouse brains are smaller and very different to ours, but researchers are hoping that if applied early enough, ultrasound could be far more effective than the drugs people are treated with now. The current medication for Alzheimer’s only offers a temporary respite from the disease, and does nothing to remove the amyloid-β which does the long-term damage.

“This method uses relatively inexpensive ultrasound and microbubble technology which is non-invasive and appears highly effective. The approach is able to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, activating mechanisms that clear toxic protein clumps and restoring memory functions. With our approach the blood-brain barrier’s opening is only temporary for a few hours, so it quickly restores its protective role,” Professor Götz explained.

We’re not there yet, but this is a major step forward in a field that has struggled to progress, in one of life’s most distressing and care-intensive diseases.

Three cheers for science! And the mousey helpers who helped along the way.

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