Google-Glass-like smell stimulation device proposed as dementia therapy
A novel wearable device has been proposed to deliver electrical pulses stimulating the olfactory system as a way of preventing or slowing dementia-related neurodegeneration. A dysfunctional sense of smell is suspected to be one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s so it is hypothesized these diseases could be prevented by olfactory stimulation.
For several years researchers have understood that dysfunction in one's sense of smell can be a very early sign of both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It is suspected that olfactory networks in the brain could be some of the earliest to degenerate as those diseases progress.
"Olfactory nerves have terminals deep in the brain regions which influence memory and navigation,” explains Yusuf Ozgur Cakmak, lead author on the new research from the University of Otago.
So it has been hypothesized that stimulating olfactory regions in the brain could be a way to either alleviate the symptoms of these neurodegenerative diseases, or even suppress their progression. Underpinning this novel hypothesis has been a recent study finding olfactory function is a valuable sign of consciousness in unresponsive patients with severe brain injury.
Of course if researchers want to rigorously investigate whether olfactory stimulation could be a treatment option for early-stage neurodegeneration they would first need a simple, non-invasive and effective wearable device to do the job. A new study in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience is presenting a prototype wearable somewhat resembling Google Glasses that offers optimal electrical stimulation in olfactory regions.
“The ultimate goal was to develop a system that would allow easier testing in future clinical trials presenting an opportunity to fully develop this potential treatment option,” the researchers write in the new study. “We devised six potential electrode placements leveraging commonly accepted facts of electrical stimulation, easier access through relatively higher conductive pathways into the brain, and practicality.”
Electrical modeling of the brain revealed the prototype device effectively directed stimulation to brain regions responsible for olfactory processing. The study also suggests the stimulation of these olfactory structures can lead to greater activity in the entorhinal cortex, a brain region that plays a fundamental role in memory formation.
Further research is necessary to first test this prototype device on human subjects and confirm its neurostimulation potential. Then, the researchers are proposing a number of possible therapeutic uses that could be explored in clinical trials.
"Applying this treatment via a headset on a hair-free zone that can be worn in daily routine instead of more invasive treatments makes this method unique,” says Cakmak. “We're hopeful this method will help stimulate these networks to alleviate symptoms or suppress the progression of Alzheimer's disease to Dementia. It also has potential to help coma recovery and Parkinson's disease.”
The new research was published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Source: University of Otago