AsianScientist (Apr. 9, 2015) – Deep brain stimulation could possibly treat dementia by enhancing the growth of new brain cells, according to research in rats published in eLife.
As part of a natural cycle, brain cells constantly die and get replaced by new ones. The area of the brain responsible for generating new brain cells is known as the hippocampus, which is also involved in memory forming, organizing and retention.
In the present study, researchers used deep brain stimulation on rats in a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. They found that this led to new brain cells being formed in the hippocampus and better performance in both short and long term memory tests.
“The findings from the research clearly show the potential of enhancing the growth of brain cells using deep brain stimulation,” said Assistant Professor Ajai Vyas from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The research was conducted using middle-aged rats, where electrodes which sends out minute micro-electrical impulses were implanted in the brains. The rats underwent a few memory tests before and after stimulation, and displayed positive results in memory retention even after 24 hours.
“Extensive studies have shown that physiologically, rats’ brains are very similar to humans,” said Vyas.
“The electrodes are harmless to the rats, as they go on to live normally and fulfill their regular (adult) lifespan of around 22 months.”
Deep brain stimulation is a therapeutic procedure that is already used in some parts of the world to treat various neurological conditions such as tremors or dystonia, a condition characterized by involuntary muscle contractions and spasms.
Dr. Lee Wei Lim, an Associate Professor at Sunway University, Malaysia, who worked on the research project while he was a Lee Kuan Yew Research Fellow at NTU, said that deep brain stimulation brings multiple benefits.
“No negative effects have been reported in such prefrontal cortex stimulation in humans and studies have shown that stimulation also produces anti-depression effects and reduces anxiety.”
“Memory loss in older people is not only a serious and widespread problem, but signifies a key symptom of dementia. At least one in ten people aged 60 and above in Singapore suffer from dementia and this breakthrough could pave the way towards improved treatments for patients.”
Source: Nanyang Technological University; Photo: Joseph Elsbernd/Flickr/CC.
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