WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute expands pioneering Alzheimer’s treatment


MORGANTOWN, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute has been hard at work, pioneering advances in brain health ranging from addiction, to Alzheimer’s. Now there’s a road to potential recovery for the latter, thanks to new technique that researchers are calling “groundbreaking.”

“Because our first trial with opening the blood-brain barrier was successful, we were able to treat larger parts of the brain,” Rezai said. “These other parts of the brain, broadly the parietal lobe, are involved in knowing where you are within your environment and surroundings, and in thinking and processing of memory.”

During this study, doctors injected microscopic bubbles into the patient’s bloodstream, and exposed the bubbles to focused ultrasound from a treatment helmet attached to the MRI, temporarily causing the blood brain barrier to open.

The blood-brain barrier separates the bloodstream from the brain tissue and limits potentially effective medicines, immunotherapy, gene therapy and other therapeutics of the brain. 

“This is so important because there have been over 500 clinical trials based on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. And while there are a couple medications that are approved right now for treatment, they have really very small impact, there is no disease modifying treatments out there,” explained Dr. Marc Haut, Vice Chair for Clinical Research at Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.

He added, “So doing these kinds of trials is really important and looking at this as a potential treatment is really important.”

In April of this year, the RNI announced the new study as a partnership with Weill Cornell Medical Center. The study included six patients with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Since then, the study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The effort is part of a Phase II clinical trial, sponsored by INSIGHTEC, which developed the technology and manufactures the focused ultrasound device, Exablate Neuro.

In late 2018, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute the first in the U.S. trial using focused ultrasound to treat a patient with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. This first patient was Judi Polak, a nurse who had to stop working due to disease-induced short-term memory loss. Today’s study is a continuation of this effort.

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