Courtesy of OSU
An Ohio State graduate and Wexner Medical Center patient is the first Alzheimer’s patient in the U.S. with a brain pacemaker.
Doctors are researching whether a brain pacemaker will be able to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and an OSU graduate was first in line to volunteer for the study.
“I was the first one to raise my hand up,” said Kathy Sanford, 57, an OSU graduate from Lancaster, Ohio.
In a surgery that lasted five hours in October, Sanford became the first person in the U.S. to have a pacemaker implanted into her brain as a means of treating Alzheimer’s.
The study is led by Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist and director of the division of cognitive neurology, and Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience program.
This Food and Drug Administration-approved study is researching whether the use of a brain pacemaker can improve the cognitive and behavioral functions in patients with mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that has no cure.
“Our hope is that this deep brain simulation is going to help stimulate the brain to make it work better,” Scharre said.
The brain pacemaker works similarly to a cardiac pacemaker device but has wires connected to the brain rather than the heart.
The pacemaker sends tiny signals that regulate brain activity.
Sanford returns for a checkup each week where she completes a series of activities, and she and her family answer questions about her behavioral tendencies.
From there, adjustments are made to the pacemaker to send signals to different areas of the brain.
“It’s still very early, but early on we’re seeing some systematic improvement,” Scharre said. “She’s performing better on a variety of different measures we’re giving her.”
Joe Jester, Sanford’s father, said he felt that participating in this study was better than nothing at all.
“The choices you’re given is to do nothing and just watch her get worse or to try something like this and at least stop the progression,” Jester said. “My biggest thought is I wish we could have done this a year ago when she was better.”
The study will eventually research the effects the brain pacemaker has on up to 10 patients.
Scharre said the next patient will get a brain pacemaker surgically implanted sometime in March.
The Alzheimer’s study is expected to conclude in 2015.
Sanford said it was an easy decision to participate in the study.
“Because I’m trying to make the world a better place,” Sanford said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 1, 2013
An earlier version of this story said that Kathy Sanford was the first person in the U.S. to receive a brain pacemaker. In fact, Sanford is the first Alzheimer’s patient to be treated with a brain pacemaker.