Doctors Perform World’s First-of-Its-Kind Ultrasound Therapy to Treat Alzheimer’s

By Li Yen, Epoch Times
June 5, 2019 Updated: June 11, 2019

Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease—the sixth leading cause of death in the country. Judi Polak, from Morgantown, likely wondered what was next for her when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014.

“Forgetfulness, dropped words, things that I knew very well,” Polak, a former nurse practitioner in the neonatal intensive care unit, told KDKA.

Speaking to WVNews, she said, “That took me a while to deal with. It was hard to say that I have Alzheimer’s.”

“I will not be someone who will sit around and mope about myself. I wanted to be in the clinical trial and fight for…

Posted by WVU Magazine on Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sadly, Alzheimer’s is the only disease in the “10 leading causes of deaths” in the United States that cannot be cured, prevented, or slowed, according to

“There’s really nothing that fixes this,” the 61-year-old said of the degenerative neurological disease that robs one of their memory, as well as their ability to do everyday tasks. “It will get worse over time.”

“For Alzheimer’s, there’s not that many treatments available, despite hundreds of clinical trials over the past two decades and billions of dollars spent,” said Dr. Ali R. Rezai, M.D., executive chair of West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.

“There have been many procedures, many trials for Alzheimer’s, and sadly many have failed,” said Dr. Rezai in an interview with WBOY-TV.

Congratulations to the team at WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute!

Posted by WVU Medicine on Wednesday, January 2, 2019

However, there’s still a glimmer of hope. So, Polak jumped at the chance to get involved in the world’s first-of-its-kind experimental trial to treat patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s led by Dr. Rezai and a team of doctors at the institute.

The team successfully performed procedures utilizing focused ultrasound to treat Polak, who lay flat in an MRI machine wearing a special helmet for three hours each session. “They also have a little halo that they have to have their head attached to, that allows the head to be immobilized, so we can target precisely and safely hippocampus,” Dr. Rezai explained.

“It requires tremendous expertise, it requires sophisticated equipment,” the neurosurgeon said, alluding to the groundbreaking study that was done in collaboration with INSIGHTEC, an Israeli medical technology company.

The team from the WVU Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, led by Ali Rezai, M.D. (standing, ninth from left), poses for a picture with Judi (seated, front row), the first patient in the world to undergo focused ultrasound as part of the phase II clinical trial to treat Alzheimer’s disease. (Photo courtesy of WVU Medicine)

The weapon to fight the disease—MRI-guided ultrasound—then penetrated inside Polak’s helmet and delivered highly focused energy waves to target the hippocampus—a major component of the brain that plays an important role in the consolidation of information ranging from short-term memory to long term.

At the same time, micro bubbles were injected into Polak’s bloodstream and through vessels near the hippocampus. “When you couple these ultrasound waves into the brain with an injection, of what we call micro bubbles, these micro bubbles start oscillating, and they open up the blood-brain barrier,” Dr. Rezai said.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that keeps harmful substances such as toxins or drugs out of the brain. But it also traps bad components like plaques, which are sticky clumps of protein—the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The ultrasound caused the blood-brain barrier to open for a record of 36 hours. “It was opened longer than they expected,” Polak’s husband, Mark Polak, said. “They were actually, I think both excited and scared. The team was ecstatic.”

Judi Polak (left) is assisted getting into position for the first Alzheimer’s clinical trial procedure by Catherine Bierer, MRI manager at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. (Photo courtesy of WVU Medicine)

“The goal of the technology is to open up the blood-brain barrier using ultrasound and allow the plaques, hopefully, to be reduced and allow the clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s to be improved as well,” Dr. Rezai said.

The researchers believe this therapy using focused ultrasound may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, activate the brain’s immune system, reduce the plaque buildup in an Alzheimer’s patient, and improve symptoms.

“I really had significant improvement in cognitive memory that was pretty impressive,” Polak said. “I think I could speak clearer and did not wait as long in answering questions,” she added.

“Sometimes in the past things would leave my mind and I couldn’t remember things,” she further added.

“This is man on the moon stuff,” Mark Polak said of the successful trial. “Maybe we’re on to something.”

In 2018, Dr. Rezai announced this encouraging medical breakthrough to the media.

Emily Polak (far right) take a photo with (from left to right) her sister Erin, her mom Judi, and her dad Mark following Judi’s first procedure for the Alzheimer’s clinical trial. (Photo courtesy of WVU Medicine)

After completing three sessions of targeted ultrasound, Polak will have to follow through repeat testing, blood work, spinal taps, and imaging for the next five years.

“It was something that I wanted to do. I can’t change my diagnosis, I can’t change what the trajectory is going to be, but I can change what may be in the future for other people,” Polak said. “Memories are worth fighting for. We are fighting this disease. We are not suffering from it.”

Judi Polak is assisted getting into position for the first Alzheimer’s clinical trial procedure at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. (Photo courtesy of WVU Medicine)

Dr. Rezai remains optimistic about the new form of therapy against Alzheimer’s. “I am hopeful that focused ultrasound opening of the blood-brain barrier will prove to be a valuable treatment option for Judi Polak and other patients with early Alzheimer’s who are confronting the enormous challenges associated with the disease on a daily basis,” he said.

Hopefully, this promising new treatment for Alzheimer’s will continue to show positive results, benefiting more than 5 million Alzheimer patients living in America and the nearly 44 million patients worldwide.

Watch the video:

Judi's Journey with Alzheimer's

"My takeaway would be to keep fighting. It may not be for me, but it's going to be helpful for those in the future that are coming after me." – Judi Polak, the first patient in the Alzheimer's phase II clinical trial led by Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute Executive Chair Ali Rezai, M.D.

Posted by WVU Medicine on Tuesday, October 30, 2018