Electric brain stimulation could be the answer for treating mental disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's

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Electronic stimulation to the brain could help maintain that balance and communication between different regions of the brain. Photo by Shutterstock.

Modern technology has been a game changer in allowing scientists and researchers to view brain activity in real time. The neurons in our brains are electrochemical in nature and use bursts of electrical activity to connect and communicate with each other. Keeping a balanced flow between different regions of the brain is important. When that flow is altered and regions go dark, it can result in psychiatric disorders. So could electronic stimulation to the brain help maintain that balance? What promise could these treatments hold for those with debilitating disorders likeAlzheimer's, depression and Parkinson’s?  

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with Shrey Grover, a postdoctoral researcher in the Reinhard Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at Boston University, about the process and promising potential of non-invasive neurostimulation. 

KCRW: You have talked about how this treatment is helping with depression and Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Could neurostimulation also help those with dementia or Alzheimer's? 

Shrey Grover: “What we've identified in our research is how memory operations get affected with age. This is … of extreme relevance when it comes to … Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. What we've noticed is that in order to maintain information in memory, we need to have coordinated activity among multiple brain regions. In other words, different brain regions need to communicate with each other with very precise timings to ensure that information can be transmitted back and forth between them. 

What we’ve found is that as we age, that ability to coordinate communication among different brain regions deteriorates. That deterioration may be related to, or may be causing, the impairments in memory that we observe with aging generally, and particularly with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. 

What we've done in our research is that we use these neuromodulation tools and target multiple brain areas simultaneously, and in a very precisely controlled manner, we have synchronized different brain regions to make sure that those brain regions can communicate with each other optimally. 

When we do that, we are able to improve the memory abilities of elderly individuals and bring them to levels that are almost indistinguishable relative to young individuals. We are currently expanding on that line of work and seeing how we can get more robust effects and whether we can improve our neuromodulation designs so that we can observe long-lasting effects. All of that work is currently undergoing in our lab, as well as in other labs, which are seeking to examine how electrical patterns of activity are related to Alzheimer's disease and dementia.”

Credits

Host:
Jonathan Bastian

Producer:
Andrea Brody