November 14, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An FDA-approved study at The Ohio State University will determine if using a brain pacemaker can improve cognitive and behavioral functioning in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Ohio State recently performed its first procedure – and the first in the United States – and will be enrolling up to 10 patients into the study.

The study employs the use of deep brain stimulation (DBS), the same technology used to successfully treat more than 100,000 patients worldwide with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. In the study, patients with Alzheimer’s disease undergo DBS surgery with the hope of improving the frontal lobe and neural networks involved in cognition and behavior.

The deep brain stimulation implant is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device with the exception that the pacemaker wires are implanted in the brain rather than the heart.

The first patient underwent a successful five-hour surgical procedure at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center on Oct. 24 and went home within two days. The patient will be evaluated over the course of the next several months to determine the effectiveness of the technology.

Dr. Douglas Scharre, neurologist and director of the division of cognitive neurology, and Dr. Ali Rezai, neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience program, both at Wexner Medical Center, are conducting the study.

Rezai said the study, which will enroll people with mild to early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, will help determine if DBS has the potential to improve cognitive, behavioral and functional deficits. “Alzheimer’s and dementias are devastating diseases afflicting patients and their families,” said Rezai, who also directs the center for neuromodulation. “It is crucial for us to explore new options for these patients with the ultimate goal of giving them an improved quality of life.”

Successful use of DBS in the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients would be a long sought after breakthrough, according to Scharre. “Alzheimer’s disease has no cure and it’s not easily managed,” he said. “There are only a few medications approved for the treatment of the disease and some patients do not respond to the drugs or cannot tolerate the side effects.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of degenerative dementia, afflicting more than 4.5 million Americans and costing more than $100 billion per year, ranking it the third costliest disease in terms of health care expenditures in the United States.

 Alzheimer’s disease becomes progressively disabling with loss of memory, cognition, worsening behavioral function, in addition to a gradual loss of independent functioning.

The Ohio State neurology team is nationally renowned for expertise in dementia and Alzheimer’s care and research.  In addition the neuromodulation and DBS team at Ohio State are leaders in the use of DBS to treat Parkinson’s disease, as well as exploring the use of DBS for other neurological and neurobehavioral conditions. Researchers at Wexner Medical Center are completing a study of DBS in patients with traumatic brain injuries, and have initiated a study of DBS for treating obesity.

The Alzheimer’s study is scheduled to be completed in 2015.


Contact: David Crawford, Wexner Medical Center Public Affairs and Media Relations, 614-293-3737 or

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