There is an urgent need for the development of new approaches to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is the most common form of dementia accounting for up to 80% of all cases. Each week in Australia there are 1,700 newly diagnosed cases and in the absence of any significant breakthrough it is estimated that by 2056 there will be over a million Australians living with dementia. AD is characterised by progressive decline in cognitive functioning in most areas, including in memory, attention, visuospatial ability, language and executive function. Although there are medications that can slow the progression of symptoms somewhat, there are currently no effective treatments for these hallmark symptoms of AD.
While there are a number of new drugs currently under development, early findings have been largely disappointing. Furthermore, recent failures of anti-amyloid medications have cast doubt on what was considered to be one of the most promising new medication avenues. In light of this, and the inherent challenges and costs of drug development, other treatment approaches are now being considered.
Monash University is currently running a number of clinical trials to test tailored brain stimulation approaches for dementia prevention and treatment. These non-invasive techniques are designed to enhance brain activation, connectivity and cognition.
Recent research has indicated that the progressive cognitive decline seen in AD may be a result of decreased brain functional connectivity. Monash’s brain stimulation approach is able to specifically target this brain network in order to enhance connectivity, and thus functioning and could result in a highly effective therapy for the cognitive impairments in AD.
Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques have considerable promise. At the beginning of 2016, Monash University began patient trials of patterned brain stimulation for the treatment of AD. The early results from the trial are very promising and further funding would allow us to extend the trial throughout 2019 and increase the total sample size of patients.
The current trials focus on AD patients that are displaying mild to moderate symptoms.
Monash has also recently launched trials into portable devices that patients with early cognitive loss could use at home to self-administer brain stimulation treatment.
Further funding into these clinical trials could see these brain stimulation treatments become effective, non-pharmaceutical treatment for AD. Effective treatments for AD would have a significant positive impact on patients with respect to their ability to remain engaged in the workforce in some capacity, to allow for more independent living and to participate socially. This would also have a considerable flow on effect to improving the quality of life for the many carers of those with AD.