Brain Pacemakers May Zap Alzheimer's; Shocking New Discovery

First Posted: Jan 21, 2013 11:09 AM EST

A new treatment for Alzheimer's is shocking- literally. The first U.S. experiments with "brain pacemakers" are now underway as researchers look beyond drugs in the search for new treatments for the disease.

So far, only a few dozen people with early-stage Alzheimer's have been implanted with these brain pacemakers. Patients have to undergo brain surgery in order to implant the device, which causes constant electrical stimulation to the circuits involved in memory and thinking. The device is powered by a battery-bowered generator near the patient's collarbone which sends tiny shocks up the patient's neck and into his brain. The hope is that these shocks could keep the neural networks active for longer periods of time.

The idea of electrode implantation isn't new, though. Between 85,000 to 100,000 people throughout the world have electrodes implanted in their brains to help fight movement disorders.

Kathy Sanford, one of the patients, signed up almost immediately when she heard of the new treatment, according to the Star-Telegram. After her surgery, she said that she felt good. However, she experienced an occasional tingling that she attributes to the electrodes. She will be monitored by researchers for two years to see how effective the treatment is.

Currently, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer's or similar dementias, and current treatments only temporarily help symptoms. The current presumed cause of the disease are protein fragments that form plaque between neurons. However, all efforts to combat this presumed cause have failed to completely "cure" the disease.

Scientists are optimistic about the new treatment, siting that electrical stimulation could also be used at different sites in the brain to lift depression or curb appetite.

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