Build-up of plaque on the brain, a characteristic of Alzheimer’s, has been slowed in an animal trial using oxygen therapy, Israeli scientists claimed in peer-reviewed research published on Thursday.
Tel Aviv University researchers have spent years exploring the purported anti-aging potential of therapy in a pressurized — or hyperbaric — chamber, breathing pure oxygen for some of the time.
In their latest study, they concluded that the therapy boosts the functioning of the human brain, and was shown in animals to fight the build-up of brain plaque that is associated with Alzheimer’s.
“I don’t think this can ‘cure’ Alzheimer’s in humans, but it may be able to significantly slow its progression and severity,” Prof. Uri Ashery, lead author of the research published in the journal Aging, told The Times of Israel. “Further studies are needed, but people could possibly start benefiting from this in just a few years.”
Tel Aviv University’s championing of hyperbaric therapy to fight aging-related decline attracted mixed reactions among experts. Dr. Deborah Toiber, an Alzheimer’s scholar from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who was not involved in the new study, told The Times of Israel that she considers any therapy that appears to counter cognitive decline as “interesting and promising.”
But while some in her field believe that reducing plaque on the brain is key to countering Alzheimer’s, she is skeptical.
“I think plaques are a dead end [for research],” she said, suggesting that while they are a characteristic of Alzheimer’s, there is inadequate evidence that eliminating or reducing them will significantly prevent or decrease the severity of the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Ashery and his team used an oxygen therapy protocol which they have lauded in past studies for improving “the biology of the brain” in humans, and making changes in human blood cells that “reverse” aging.
In the animal trial, which involved 15 genetically-modified mice that mimicked degeneration caused by Alzheimer’s, researchers reported that the therapy led to the prevention of amyloid plaques forming on the brain and the removal of some existing amyloid plaque deposits. Amyloids, non-soluble proteins, are believed by many medical professionals to be connected with severe degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
“We had a control group of similar mice that did not receive the oxygen therapy, and they grew many more amyloid plaques,” said Ashery, who is based at Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience. “Among those who received the therapy, only a third of the number of new plaques appeared, and existing large plaques reduced their size, on average, to a half of what they were.”
Blood flow to the brain decreases with Alzheimer’s, but the researchers reported improved blood flow to the mice brains.
Ashery’s team also monitored six people over the age of 60, who have experienced signs of cognitive decline.
This part of the research took place at the non-profit Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Shamir Medical Center, near Rishon Lezion, which offers its oxygen protocol to businesses outside Israel. It is being sold at the Aviv Clinic at a retirement village in Florida, which offers it as an answer to aging.
The research team reported that after 60 sessions of oxygen therapy over 90 days, blood flow to the brain was improved by an average of 20 percent, and results in memory tests were improved on average by 16.5%.
Ashery acknowledged that the human sample size was small, but said that it may reflect the benefits of the oxygen therapy, as observed in mice, working on humans. “More research is needed, but there could be tremendous benefits if this can help people who lose cognitive abilities, either before or during the onset of Alzheimer’s.”