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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Device Drains Clogged Alzheimer's Brains

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WebMD Health News

March 27, 2002 -- A new device promises to unclog the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. It worked in a small study. Now it's jumped to a large-scale test.

Here's the theory. As people age, the spinal fluid that washes the brain flows less freely. If a person has Alzheimer's disease, the flow is twice as slow. The fluid gets stagnant and fills with toxic materials -- including the tangled fibers that clump into the plaque that clogs the brain of Alzheimer's patients. Increasing the flow is supposed to wash this goop away.

One way to do this is to install a drain in the brain. A Stanford University research team has invented a new shunting device that does just that.

It works great in mice. To see if it might work in people, the researchers enlisted 29 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. By random selection, 15 of the patients got shunt implants and 14 did not. All continued on their regular Alzheimer's drugs. After a year, there was a big difference between the two groups.

"The kind of difference we saw was two to three times greater than has been shown in any of the trials for drug therapies the FDA later approved," Dawn McGuire, MD, tells WebMD. McGuire, a Stanford neurologist, is president and CEO of Eunoe Inc., the company formed to market the shunt.

The trial results -- reported last year at a neurosurgery conference -- showed that the shunt was pretty safe. Nobody had the life-threatening over-drainage of fluid seen in older shunts used to treat water on the brain. Only one patient had an infection because of the shunt, and that was successfully treated.

Best of all, the device seemed to be effective. More than a third of the patients who got the shunt had improved mental function. There was no improvement in any patient who didn't get a shunt. Not everyone with a shunt implant got better, but far fewer deteriorated. Deteriorating mental function was seen 60% of the control group but only in 27% of the shunt patients.

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