Mice are dirty and a terrible nuisance — unless they’re advancing dementia research. We had a mini-invasion of mice two weeks ago and I set out sticky traps and clean-kill traps. The rodents have now departed and I didn’t cry at their funerals. But there’s an amazing new mouse study that makes me smile.
Around the time of the ‘mousecapades’ at our house, I got an article about a scientific breakthrough in dementia research at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) of the University of Queensland. Working with sound waves, researchers at QBI have come up with a promising method for removing defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from a dementia patient’s brain. Their approach employs something called “focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue.”
The treatment sounds like science fiction, but the study’s sound waves managed to open up the blood-brain barrier. Their presence stimulated the brain’s microglial cells, which work at waste-removal. Once stimulated, the microglial cells were able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps which are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is just the beginning of the good news, so don’t let the science terms discourage you from reading more.
According to the QBI report, this process restored the memory function of 75% of the mice tested — with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue! They also claim that “the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.” That’s starting to sound like a miracle.
Obviously, a recovery among study mice is quite different from the restoration of a human brain. But QBI team member Jürgen Götz, said his research team is already planning to start trials with higher animal models, like sheep. If they are successful, human trials may be underway by 2017.
If you want to learn more about the tremendous contributions made by the heroic mice with Alzheimer’s, you can listen here to an interview with members of the QBI team. In the meantime, I’m rejoicing at the departure of our house mice — and the positive implications of this research.