The Effects of Transcranial Ultrasound on Brain Disorders

lindsay-brinerBy Ph.D student Lindsay Briner

Introduction

As a student at Sofia University, who is not typically exposed to such rigorous experimental experience – it was an incredible learning experience to both have hands on experience analyzing the efficiency of the experimental design, as well as working directly with participants and collecting data.

It was also very meaningful to be working alongside Dr. Hameroff and his team, recognizing that scientific experiments are never done single handedly. It was an honor to be on the team even temporarily – to learn and to create great new friendships.

Over the last year I have been working alongside Dr. Jeffrey Martin at the Transformative Technology Lab  at Sofia University, where we are studying similar technologies on healthy people to enhance well-being. It was fascinating to dive into the other end of the spectrum of these brain technologies from a medical perspective in consideration to human pathology conversely.

Pictured below: Dr. Stuart Hameroff, Dr. Jay Sanguinetti, and Lindsay celebrating our time spent together on the TUS study.

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The Study

In April 2016, a new study was launched at the University of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies, Effects of Transcranial Ultrasound on Memory and Mood in Cognitively-Impaired Human Subjects. I had the honor to volunteer as a Research Assistant Visiting Scholar in April and May 2016 to contribute to the study. The study is still in progress, assessing and collecting participants. The study is an uncontrolled pilot study to determine direction of future controlled clinical research.

This study is specifically investigating the effects of transcranial ultrasound (TUS) noninvasive brain stimulation on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients for cognitive function and memory. Due to a lack of success in other approaches to resolving these neurological disorders (such as pharmaceuticals and brain training programs), non-invasive brain stimulation techniques are being explored, such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) (Fregni 2005; Hameroff et al, 2013). tDCS creates a weak electric current in the brain from electrodes placed on the scalp, and has had some success in improving verbal working memory (Fregni 2005). TMS imposes a magnetic field in the brain, and has shown promise for some cognitive symptoms of depression (Guse et al, 2010). But both tDCS and TMS are inconsistent, have poor spatial resolution and lack a reliable neurophysiological mechanisms of action (Hameroff et al, 2013).

Although in this study, ultrasound stimulation is being used, which historically has only been used for medical imaging. It consists of mechanical vibrations, usually in low megahertz (MHz). Recently, there has been a plethora of both animal and human subject research utilizing ultrasound for therapeutic treatment. As well, a neuronal culture study inferring low intensity ultrasound increased neuronal growth and synaptic formation (Bucci et al, 2015). In humans, it has been found that sub-thermal TUS (~150 mW/cm2) can safely and painlessly stimulate brain activity without long-term effects or damage to the brain (Dalecki, 2007). Given the found safety, several recent studies demonstrate electrophysiological and behavioral effects of TUS on human subjects (Bystritsky, 2015; Legon et al, 2014; Tyler, 2011; Yoo, 2011). As well, the primary contributing researchers of the current study were the first to demonstrate the positive effects of TUS on mental states with human subjects (Hameroff et al, 2012, c.f. Sanguinetti et al, 2014a; 2014b).

All of these findings have been remarkably groundbreaking. Although given the dead-end treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study on mice with genetically-induced Alzheimer’s disease was published subjugating especially interesting results. TUS was applied to the temporal cortex of the mice, resulting in a restoration of behavioral memory functions, and reduced amyloid plaques, a bio-marker for Alzheimer’s (Leinenga and Götz 2015).

One perspective on the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is where a malfunction in the tao protein creates amyloid plaque buildup in the microtubules of neural cells. This is a highly favored inference of causation for Alzheimer’s disease and therefore the findings of Leinenga and Götz (2015) have been received by the scientific community as upstanding.

The mechanism of action for TUS is unknown, although according Hameroff (2016) at the Science of Consciousness conference, speculations of mechanism could include “mechano-sensitive membrane proteins, and/or microtubules, major components of the cell cytoskeleton, and single most prevalent protein in the brain.” Microtubules are cylindrical lattices of the protein tubulin, forming Fibonacci quasi-crystals with self-similar vibrational patterns across scales, from terahertz (10^12 Hz, infra-red) to gigahertz (10^9 Hz, microwave) to megahertz (10^6Hz, radio electromagnetically, ultrasound mechanically), kilohertz (10^3 Hz, audio) and hertz (EEG) (Hameroff, 2016). These resonances of the microtubules were discovered by Anirban Bandyopadhyay’s research group at NIMS in Tsukuba, Japan; which inspired Stuart Hameroff’s current investigations as per similarity to ultrasound frequencies (2016).

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Stuart Hameroff is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona known for his studies of consciousness.

 

 

 

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Jeffery Martin, PhD, heads the Transformative Technology Lab at Sofia University. As a Harvard trained social scientist, Jeffrey researches personal transformation who specializes in bringing rigorous empirical research and testing to transformational techniques and theories that have previously been supported anecdotally.

References

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