Wake Forest Baptist receives NIH grant to study deep brain stimulation for Alzheimer's

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – March 6, 2019 – Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Health have been awarded $3.9 million from the National Institutes of Health to determine if a procedure used to treat Parkinson’s patients can improve age-related cognitive abilities and counteract the effects of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Under the five-year grant, which will be conducted in collaboration with the Medical College of Georgia, the researchers will study deep brain stimulation (DBS) in an animal model. The study is designed to test the effectiveness of DBS in improving memory and evaluate the duration of benefits after the intervention.

“Based on our previous research, we anticipate that deep brain stimulation will improve cognitive performance, but we also hope that it will prove to be an effective intervention for Alzheimer’s,” said the study’s principal investigator Christos Constantinidis, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Health.

The study is being conducted in nonhuman primates because they experience age-related cognitive decline similar to humans, Constantinidis said. They also develop amyloid deposits in old age, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s in humans.

DBS, which is the most commonly performed surgical treatment for Parkinson’s, uses electrodes that are inserted into a targeted area of the brain to help regulate cell- signaling patterns that control movement.

Although this study’s approach will parallel treatment for Parkinson’s, it will target a part of the brain that regulates attention and memory rather than movement. In previous studies conducted at Wake Forest Baptist and the Medical College of Georgia, deep brain stimulation markedly improved cognition in young adult nonhuman primates, with memory performance improving by 30 to 44 percent as compared to the control group.

“Our prior work discovered remarkable cognitive changes in young nonhuman primates. Now the question is will there be similar findings in older subjects and will it be applicable to the neuropathology implicated in Alzheimer’s dementia,” said David Blake, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the Medical College of Georgia and co-investigator of the study.

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This research is supported by grant 1R01AG060754-01A1 from the National Institute of Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. Alzheimer’s research is a priority area of NIA due to the annual cost for care of Alzheimer’s patients in the United States exceeding $277 billion or $850 for each U.S. resident.

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