Researchers from Imperial College London are spearheading the advancement and experimentation of a novel approach to stimulate the brain. This innovative technique offers a potential alternative for addressing brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and the resultant memory impairment. Termed ‘temporal interference’ (TI), this non-invasive method functions by transmitting electrical fields to the brain using electrodes positioned on the patient’s scalp and head.
The preliminary results, which were released on October 19 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, indicate that when TI stimulation is administered to healthy adults while they engage in a memory-related task, it has a positive impact on enhancing their memory function.
A New Innovative Technique
The concept of temporal interference was first introduced by the team in 2017. Leading the current research at the Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, Dr. Nir Grossman has revealed that, until now, deep brain structures required surgical electrode implantation for electrical stimulation, which carried inherent risks and potential complications. However, their innovative technique has now demonstrated the ability to non-invasively stimulate specific deep brain regions in humans, offering a new avenue for the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, which affect these deep brain structures.
For the first time, a team from the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) at Imperial College London and the University of Surrey has effectively tested this method on a group of 20 healthy volunteers.
In the study, researchers initially used post-mortem brain measurements to verify the capability to remotely target the hippocampus. Memory and learning heavily rely on this specific brain region.
Subsequently, the research team administered TI stimulation to healthy volunteers while they were engaged in the process of memorizing pairs of faces and names, a task heavily reliant on the hippocampus. By utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers demonstrated that TI had a selective impact on the hippocampal activity triggered by the memory-related task.
Finally, the researchers replicated the procedure, extending the stimulation period to 30 minutes. This extended TI stimulation during the task resulted in improved memory accuracy.
The researchers suggest that this breakthrough could have widespread applications, allowing scientists to stimulate various deep brain regions in order to gain deeper insights into their functional roles. This, in turn, can expedite the identification of new therapeutic targets.
Potential Therapy for Dementia
Dr. Ines Violante, affiliated with the University of Surrey and holding the title of Honorary Research Fellow at Imperial, and the lead author of the study, expressed her excitement about the potential to selectively target deep brain regions using a non-invasive approach. She described this as a promising development that provides a valuable tool for investigating how the human brain functions and creates opportunities for clinical applications.
She further explained that the combination of non-invasive imaging and brain stimulation will assist in uncovering the processes that support cognitive functions, such as memory and learning. A comprehensive understanding of these processes and their adaptability is essential for the development of more personalized strategies to treat or delay the onset of various diseases.
Currently, the team is in the process of conducting a clinical trial involving individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Their aim is to explore the potential use of TI in alleviating memory loss symptoms in these patients.