Can An Implant Prevent Alzheimer's Disease? Swiss Scientists Believe So

Swiss scientists believe they have found a way to prevent Alzheimer's disease by an implant in the patient's skin - although so far the innovative new treatment only works in mice, and human trials could be years away.

As Science Daily reports, one of the suspected causes of Alzheimer's Disease is a protein called amyloid beta. This protein over-accumulates in certain areas of the brain, causing the buildup of plaque that is toxic to neurons - the cells in the brain that transmit information via electrical and chemical signals. The resulting damage to the neurons inhibits the patient's memory and cognition - the classic symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.

If the body can somehow be compelled to block the production and accumulation of the amyloid beta protein, then theoretically this may be an avenue of preventing Alzheimer's disease.

However, there are drawbacks.

For one thing, the only way to block the protein is to signal the body's own immune system to create antibodies; if done improperly, this could cause an undesirable auto-immune response, similar to an organ transplant recipient's body rejecting a transplanted organ.

For another, for this treatment to work, it must begin as soon as the Alzheimer's patient starts showing any signs of cognitive decline. However, such a treatment requires a series of injections of vaccines, and could cause side-effects.

Swiss researcher Patrick Aebischer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and his team have created an implant that they believe addresses both of those problems.

The device, which measures 27-mm long, 12-mm wide, and 1.2-mm thick (about 1.06 inches long,.47 inches wide, and about.047 inches thick), is composed of two permeable membranes sealed together with a polypropylene frame. All of the components of the implant are made from readily-available materials, meaning that it can be manufactured en masse. Inside it are bio-engineered cells that, when released, produce antibodies to the protein believed to cause Alzheimer's Disease.

Implanted under the patient's skin, the device releases a steady stream of antibodies into the patient's bloodstream. Those antibodies then target the amyloid beta protein, theoretically protecting the patient against Alzheimer's Disease for life.

The beauty of the implant is that membranes that surround the cells shield them from being attacked by the patient's immune system. This means that cells from one donor can be used to treat several patients.

It bears noting that, as of this writing, the Alzheimer's implant has only been tested in mice, and human trials could be years away.

Dr. Aebischer and his team tested their new implant on mice - specifically, a group of mice from a family line of lab mice specifically bred for Alzehimer's Disease research. Studying the mice over the course of 39 weeks, those with the implant showed a "dramatic" reduction in the amount of amyloid beta in their brains, compared to mice who did not receive the treatment.

The treated mice also had a reduction in another protein - the tau protein - that is also a sign of Alzheimer's.

As Science Daily notes, Dr. Aebischer's work, at this point in the research process, is only a proof-of-concept, but one that holds great promise for treating Alzheimer's and outer neuro-degenerative diseases.

"It demonstrates clearly that encapsulated cell implants can be used successfully and safely to deliver antibodies to treat Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders that feature defective proteins."
[Image via Shutterstock/Fresnel]