For 500,000 Americans each year, what starts as short-term memory loss will ultimately end in premature death. Today Alzheimer's affects more than 5 million US adults, and currently while many of those cases are manageable, as doctors have developed ways to slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure. But a breakthrough involving ultrasound technology has some people hopeful that there could be one soon.
Medical uses for ultrasound
Ultrasound has been used by medical practitioners far and wide for the last 50 years as a tool to produce images of muscles, tendons, and other internal organs. These pictures are then used to determine organ size, shape, and whether or not there are any underlying internal issues with them. If you're a woman whose had children in the last 50 years, it's very likely that during your pregnancy you had an ultrasound procedure done to determine the health of your baby. The reason for that is ultrasounds typically do not pose any threat to the patient (or the child) when conducted correctly.
Ultrasound technology has also been used to evaluate heart function, to detect blood clots in veins, to monitor solid structures in the abdominal cavity, to look for tumors in the neck, and to detect fluid in a swollen knee joint. Just recently, Australian scientists found a new, revolutionary use for ultrasound technology -- to restore memory quickly, safely, and without drugs.
The method, which was first tested on mice, uses high-frequency sound waves to clear up a toxic plaque found in the brain of Alzheimer's sufferers called "amyloid beta." After many weeks of treatment, 3/4 of the mice had their memories restored, and the plaque completely cleared from their brains. Professor Jurgen Gotz, an author of the study and the director of the Clem Jones Centre For Ageing Dementia Research In Australia, claims that with the aging population continuously growing at a rapid rate, drug treatments will be expensive and risky. On the other hand, this ultrasound method is relatively cheap, non-invasive, safe, and very powerful. Right now the most popular form of treatment is drug therapy, but it will be interesting to see whether this new method is widely adopted by doctors in the US to treat the millions of people who currently suffer from it.