New Alzheimer’s Treatment Helps Drugs Reach the Brain

Focused ultrasound combined with delivery of monoclonal antibodies improves drug delivery to the brain and accelerates reduction of beta-amyloid plaques, a hallmark for Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study.

Researchers at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) have found that focused ultrasound can open up the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to better allow monoclonal antibodies to reach the brain and reduce amyloid-beta plaques, results that are promising for the millions of Americans suffering from the devastating disease.

The BBB is a layer of tightly joined cells lining the blood vessels of the brain. It acts as a protective barrier that prevents harmful substances from entering the brain, but it can also present challenges when it comes to treating disease in the brain by preventing medications from entering.

Researchers therefore used focused ultrasound to temporarily open the junctions between the cells, allowing the necessary amount of therapies to enter.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month, outlines the results of this treatment on the first three participants, each of whom has mild Alzheimer’s disease. The patients received six standard monthly infusions of aducanumab antibody therapy, which has been shown to reduce amyloid-beta plaques and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, though it does not easily pass through the BBB.

These infusions were immediately followed by focused ultrasounds, which induced BBB opening in regions of the brain with high levels of amyloid-beta plaques.

After six months of antibody treatment, the researchers observed an average of 32% more reduction in amyloid-beta plaques in brain areas with BBB opening compared to areas without the opening.

“Focused ultrasound is a noninvasive outpatient procedure for BBB opening with great promise for improving drug delivery to the brain,” lead researcher Ali Rezai, M.D., said in a press release. “The next phase of the clinical trial will begin this year to explore how to further accelerate amyloid-beta removal in a shorter time with focused ultrasound in combination with lecanemab antibody.”

Alzheimer's disease is a condition that affects 6.7 million Americans, and researchers are constantly working to develop new therapies to treat the fatal condition. This study represents a promising development in the fight to slow disease progression and improve cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s.

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