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Ultrasound scans appear to slow down brain ageing

If you’re an older person reading this, no doubt you’ve already experienced those moments where it seems that you almost have to drag the information you need from your brain. But this could all be a thing of the past, if the new research carried out at the University of Queensland is anything to go by. While treating the brain with scanning ultrasound has already been shown to combat Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models of the disease, this new study shows that it also has the potential to delay ageing in healthy brains too.

The findings of the study, which come from work carried out by the Clem Jones Centre of Ageing Dementia Research at the Queensland Brain Institute, have shown that it’s possible to prevent the degeneration of brain cells in healthy mice by using scanning ultrasound. During the study, mice were treated with scanning ultrasound over a period of six weeks, with the researchers reviewing the brain function at regular intervals following the treatment.

While the original project was designed as a safety study, it soon became apparent that ultrasound had a broader role to play in maintaining the health of the brain. In normal brains, the structure of the neuronal cells in the hippocampus reduces as we age. However, by exposing mice to scanning ultrasound, the researchers noted that this decrease in structure didn’t happen. This suggests that scanning ultrasound may have the ability to keep the ‘young’ structure of the hippocampus as we get older. The researchers believe this is because scanning ultrasound is able to open the blood-brain barrier temporarily and activate the mechanisms that clear away toxic protein clumps. This in turn helps to restore the memory.

The team are now conducting tests to determine whether this preservation of cell structure will mean that the ability to learn and remember doesn’t diminish as we get older, and plan to test the effect of scanning ultrasound on the brain structure and function of older mice. However, even from these initial tests, it’s clear to see that scanning ultrasound technology has the potential to play a major role in keeping our brains healthy as we age.

The findings of the research were published in the online journal PLOS One.

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