Electric Stimulation Can Potentially Combat Neurodegenerative Diseases
Denrie Caila Perez posted on April 07, 2020 |
An implanted device delivering electric pulses presents a new non-intrusive treatment method.
The fluorescent red in this mouse brain slice image shows increased cerebral spinal fluid penetration after vagus nerve stimulation. (Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison.)
The fluorescent red in this mouse brain slice image shows increased cerebral spinal fluid penetration after vagus nerve stimulation. (Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison.)

In a new study, electric pulses were discovered to be capable of potentially treating those with epilepsy, depression and other similar conditions. The researchers discovered that an implanted device can be used to electrically stimulate the cervical vagus nerve. According to findings by biomedical engineers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stimulating this nerve results in an “increase of penetration of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.” This means that the electric pulses have a significant effect toward the brain’s clearance systems.

Due to this increased penetration of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain’s clearance systems, it carries with it waste products and misfolded proteins, which are responsible for collecting and “strangling” off neurons, perpetuating neurodegenerative diseases.

Using a fluorescent tracer, the team was able to track the cerebrospinal fluid in a group of mice. Each mouse was outfitted with an implanted cervical vagus nerve cuff that delivered electric stimuli. In their observation, the fluid traveled through the brain’s glymphatic system—one of two complementary clearance systems responsible for maintaining homeostasis.

“In that system, you can imagine a sort of pipeline,” said Kevin Cheng, assistant scientist. “You have CSF flowing into the brain, and as it flows in, it collects extracellular molecules like toxic byproducts and metabolic byproducts and then flushes that out toward the paravenous drainage. So, by measuring CSF entering, we are, in effect, measuring that flow.”

Stimulation parameters were also employed, including length, intensity and frequency.

The technology has already been approved for clinical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to the researchers, they will now be “imaging brains of patients to confirm the effect in humans.” They have also expressed their plans moving forward, stating that they aim to eventually use this research to further develop their injectable electrode, injectrode. Their goal is to “further explore potential preventive treatments of neurodegenerative diseases through minimally invasive means.”

“It’s a completely new paradigm that might explain existing vagus nerve stimulation effects for epilepsy and depression, but it’s also a completely untapped mechanism,” said Kip Ludwig, associate professor. “The hope is that we can start looking at hijacking the nervous system to prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s from ever occurring.”

The paper was published in the Brain Stimulation journal.


For similar stories, check out how simulation technology is impacting brain surgery.


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