Trans-cranial magnetic stimulation could help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to counter one of the most characteristic and early consequences of the disease: memory loss. This conclusion was reached by a group of researchers from the Saint Lucia IRCCS Foundation led by Dr. Giacomo Koch. In the study, published in the scientific journal NeuroImage, it was found that patients treated with brain stimulation sessions regained 20 percent of their ability to keep events in mind. We talk about this topic with Professor Alberto Albanese, neurologist at Humanitas.
How TMS works
Trans-cranial magnetic stimulation generates magnetic fields that pass through the skull and are transformed into electrical impulses, thus stimulating the reactivation of connections between synapses and neurons that are the basis of the exchange of messages between different areas of our brain and therefore the basis of all its functions. For some years now this technique, which has been passed from laboratories to clinical use, has proved useful in the treatment of various neurological deficits. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of drug-resistant forms of depression, TMS was used by IRCCS Santa Lucia researchers on a special neural network, called the default mode network.
What is the default mode network?
The area identified by researchers, called the default mode network, is in a central and relatively deep position of the brain highly connected to the hippocampus, a region involved in memory mechanisms and early affected by Alzheimer’s disease. This area interacts with our awareness of the environment and the situation in which we find ourselves at a given time, namely the ability to be oriented, which in Alzheimer’s patients is gradually deteriorating due to the disease.
An effective technique in diagnosis
In addition to studying the use of this method for neuro-rehabilitation, the research group is focusing on the use of TMS as an Alzheimer biomarker, i.e. as a tool for early detection of disease signals. International studies are showing that trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, if applied continuously, can help to recover neuromotor and cognitive deficits caused by other diseases, such as stroke and multiple sclerosis, and that it can also be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. The two most common methods for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease today are MRI and PET. These are expensive methods to which the TMS could offer an alternative.
Developments in research into the treatment of depression
The IRCCS Santa Lucia research team has launched a new clinical trial project in collaboration with Harvard University to test the possible efficacy of TMS in the treatment of depression, comparing it with the use of antidepressant drugs. If this method proves effective, it may change the approach to the treatment of this frequent psychiatric disease.