Deep-Brain Stimulation: Surgical Relief for Parkinson's and Beyond

In this series, ARF takes stock of deep-brain stimulation after more than a decade of life-altering procedures,  In deep brain stimulation, surgeons implant wires into the brain and hook them up to a pacemaker-like stimulator implanted in the chest, which sends electrical signals to his brain that quiet tremors or stimulate dying brain areas. Now is an interesting time to learn more about this treatment, because even as scientists are gathering long-term data on its initial indications—movement disorders—they are beginning to explore whether DBS might also work for a range of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s. 

  1. A Day in the OR: Surgeons Zap Neurons for Parkinson’s, AD
  2. DBS Update: Attempting to Stimulate Memory in Alzheimer’s
  3. Deep-Brain Stimulation: There’s Still Room for Improvement

Will Technology Revolutionize Dementia Diagnosis and Care?

As populations age worldwide and the number of people with dementia is set to soar over the next few decades, a crisis in eldercare looms. At the same time, the use of personal technology—smartphones, tablets, wearable monitors—is exploding. Can technology help society avert the crisis? Some researchers envision a future in which older adults with cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s disease could stay independent longer with the help of technology. Robots and interactive computers would aid an impaired senior to complete simple tasks. Monitoring systems would send an alarm to relatives if the person fell, skipped medication, or was otherwise in difficulty. Interactive computer games and online communities tailored to people with dementia would provide cognitive and social stimulation that might slow decline. Sound like science fiction? These ideas are being tested now in research studies. Some of the technology is on the market, and much of the rest may become available within the next three to five years, researchers predict.

New Genetics—From Sequence to Knowledge

When the first human genome sequence was finished in 2003, it quickly became clear that its seemingly unending stream of letters was not enough to comprehend what makes people tick. All the moving parts that bring the DNA code to life needed to be understood as well. To address this, researchers launched projects such as the Encylopedia of DNA Elements (Encode) and 1000 Genomes. In Encode, more than 440 scientists collaborated to identify functional parts of the genome—those regions that regulate how, when, and where different genes are turned on or off. In 2012, the consortium released data in a fusillade of papers, including six in the September 6 Nature. The scientists found that about 80 percent of the genome, much of which was previously considered “junk” DNA, has at least one biochemical function in some cells. Though the scientists have not yet examined every human cell type, this latest effort widens their window into the intricacies of the genetic code. The data could help researchers understand how genetic variants outside of genes can alter risk for disease, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Other genetics initiatives are generating bucket loads of sequence data for researchers to mine.