Surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Hospital have successfully implanted a deep brain stimulation device with hopes to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the first operations of its kind for the United States. Similar to a pacemaker, the stimulation device includes a set of electrodes that sends impulses with the help of a battery that is placed under the skin — the obvious difference is that the electrodes are used to stimulate growth of the hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for converting short-term memory to long-term, which also happens to be the first area to shrink in cases of Alzheimer's. Over the course of the next year, about 40 additional patients in North America with mild forms of the disease will undergo the same treatment as part of the study.
Deep brain stimulation implants have previously been used in Europe and Canada to treat Parkinson's disease, depression, Tourette's Syndrome, and other forms of brain impairment. In a 2010 study that took place in Toronto, the size of the hippocampus in one of the six patients increased by eight percent after 12 months of stimulation — a major breakthrough considering no growth had ever been recorded in cases of Alzheimer's. While researchers are still far from ridding the world of the condition, delaying its effects would greatly increase the quality of life for those afflicted with the disease.
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