An Australian research team has made an Alzheimer’s breakthrough that’s mostly about actually breaking through. Alzheimer’s afflicts more than 5 million Americans, but it would be more apt to say it ravages them. A brutal memory-and sanity-stripping disease, it robs its victims of any sense of themselves. For decades, scientists have struggled to identify markers for the disease and to curtail its progress. They believe Alzheimer’s is a result of beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that “destroys synapses before it clumps into plaques that lead to nerve cell death.”
The problem with trying to eradicate those plaques, according to Popular Science, is that it’s well protected by a barrier of cells that plaque-busting drugs can’t penetrate. That’s where the breaking through comes in. The Australian researchers used ultrasound waves to penetrate the cell barrier in mice. The ultrasound stimulates cells in the brain called microglia–and the stimulated microglia reduced the amount of plaque in 75% of the mice treated. The mice’s memories improved as a result. The ultrasound also creates an opening through which other plaque-busting drugs might travel.
The Australian team’s research was published at Science Translational Medicine (with rights-only access.)