London: Magnets that boost the brain could be used to ease the pain of Alzheimer's, scientists say.
    
Previous studies have shown that using a magnetic coil to stimulate the parts of the brain involved in memory and learning can improve symptoms.
    
Researchers believe that used early in the course of the disease, it would give patients precious extra months of independent living, as well as time with their loved ones before their physical and mental health deteriorates.
    
The technology had already been tried on Alzheimer's patients, with promising results, and is now being tested in Manchester, a daily reported.
    
Six patients in the early stages of the disease will have a magnetic coil held over their scalp while they answer questions, identify shapes and solve puzzles.
    
It is hoped that as the magnetic field passes into key brain areas it will strengthen vital connections between cells.
    
In tests on mice, the technique, known as trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, also boosted the growth of cells in the hippocampus, the brain's memory hub and one of the first areas to be destroyed by Alzheimer's.
    
Brain scans at Manchester University will aim to find out more about how it works.
    
In a small-scale trial in Israel, it proved to be both safe and effective, with significant improvements in some, but not all, tests of memory.
    
"The results showed marked reversal of disease progression with patients improving to a state comparable to two years before treatment initiation," Israeli firm Neuronix Medical, which is developing the treatment, said.
    
"Trials also indicated that improvement is maintained for at least six months post-treatment," the firm said.
    
"We have just finished treating the first patient. It's a promising approach. Medical interventions using drugs tend to have side-effects which are a problem in the early stages when people still function relatively well," Professor Karl Herholz, who is testing the device in Manchester, said.
    
"We are not offering a cure but a way to help patients stay independent and have a better quality of life for longer," Neuronix Medical's chief executive, Eyal Baror, told the Sunday Telegraph.
    
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer's Research UK, which is helping fund the Manchester trial, described the technique as promising and said that any treatment that could improve thinking skills for people with Alzheimer's would be 'a step forward'.

(Agencies)

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