The most recent surgery performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the first such operations in the United States.
The procedure involves drilling holes into the patient's skull and implanting wires into the brain's fornix, the pathway essential to bringing information to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain where learning begins and memories are made. It's also where the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's start to appear.
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Wires connected to the "brain pacemaker" emit small electrical impulses 130 times a second. Patients don't even feel the current, according to Paul Rosenberg, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"Recent failures in Alzheimer's disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies," Rosenberg said in a press release. "This is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically. It's a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging of the population."