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Doctors perform 1st surgery to treat Alzheimer's at UT Health San Antonio, University Health

New General Hospital of Queretaro, Mexico - 17 Feb 2021
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SOPA Images/Sipa U
Medical workers wearing protective masks and suits treat patients at the pulmonology unit at the hospital in Vannes.

UT Health San Antonio and University Health have performed South Texas’ first surgery to treat Alzheimer’s.

The Deep Brain Stimulation surgery involves implanting electrodes in the part of the brain that forms new memories. These electrodes run underneath the skin down to a generator located outside the ribcage and beneath the skin. The surgery is minimally invasive and is performed in three different sessions in a little over a month.

Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin, a neurologist at UT Health San Antonio and researcher with the Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, said people diagnosed with Alzheimer's experience a loss of function that’s very steady and doesn’t slow down. The trial of the surgery is meant to slow and possibly stop the progression of the disease. Being able to slow the decline in individuals who have a diagnosed form of Alzheimer’s would be a major achievement.

Dr. de Erausquin diagnosed Jane — who asked that her full name not be shared — a 71-year-old woman with early stage Alzheimer’s. After retiring from a 30-year long career as a teacher and librarian in a San Antonio school district, she noticed little things about her memory. Dr. de Erausquin suggested Jane join the DBS clinical trial.

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Dr. Alexander Papanastassiou is a neurosurgeon with UT Health. He has performed various DBS surgeries using a state-of-the-art robotic system used to diagnose and treat movement disorders such as epilepsy. He also performed the DBS surgery on Jane.

During the surgery, Dr. de Erausquin confirmed the electrode location by testing her heart rate and blood pressure responses to the stimulation while the patient was awake and she even experienced a memory which sometimes happens. Jane reported no pain after the surgery and has reported improved memory and cognitive functions and is back to educating others through presentations.

UT Health said it’s been approved to perform Deep Brain Stimulation on 12 more patients in San Antonio with early Alzheimer’s as part of the clinical trial. All patients will receive the DBS surgery and programming sessions, but some patients at random will receive activation and stimulation to test how effective the procedure is.

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