Minimally-Invasive Breakthrough Procedure for Alzheimer’s Disease Approved for Early Alzheimer’s Patients in UT Study

Jane, 72, was a 30-year teacher and librarian in a San Antonio school district before retiring in 2016. After leaving the classroom and library, life slowed down and her memory began to decline. Jane and her husband went to the Glenn Biggs Institute in San Antonio, where she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at University of Texas Health San Antonio, is one of Jane’s treating physicians. He suggested that Jane might be interested in joining the Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS therapy, clinical trial for Alzheimer’s patients, testing the new Vercise™ Deep Brain Stimulation System. The surgery is minimally invasive and performed with the help of robotics to enhance rapid recovery with minimal pain, blood loss, and hospital time.

DBS Has Been Used for Years to Treat Parkinson’s

DBS has been used for many years to treat Parkinson’s and tremors with much success. Dr. Alexander Papanastassiou, an associate professor of neurosurgery at UT Health San Antonio, said, “(d)eep brain stimulation is a tried and true, well tested therapy. That’s the standard of care for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.”

DBS is also being used to target obesity, but researchers found it actually helped improve patients’ memory, as well.  UT Health San Antonio and University Health are approved to do DBS implants in 12 patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, using the Vercise™ Deep Brain Stimulation System.

How Does DBS Work?

For the DBS procedure, the device is implanted in a patient with mild Alzheimer’s near the fornix in the middle of the brain to electrically stimulate the memory circuit and improve the flow of electricity through it. This is expected to slow the memory decline experienced by Alzheimer’s patients. It is similar to a heart pacemaker that is implanted beneath the skin in the patient’s chest, with two very thin wires called leads that deliver electricity directly to the brain.

Jane was the first patient who underwent the procedure at University Hospital on Nov. 5, 2021. Dr. Alexander Papanastassiou, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery at UT Health San Antonio who sees University Health patients, implanted DBS electrodes during the operation. Dr. de Erausquin confirmed the electrode location by testing Jane’s heart rate and blood pressure responses to stimulation while she was awake during the procedure. The test stimulation also evoked a memory as it sometimes does. Jane went home the next day and returned the following week for the planned second stage of surgery to implant the generator in the chest wall. She went home the same day, recovered well, and returned again in early December for randomization and initial programming.

A state-of-the-art robotic system, the Renishaw neuromate, aided the surgery. The robot has ensured accurate placement of brain implants to diagnose and treat epilepsy and movement disorders.

Who is Eligible for DBS Implants?

According to Dr. de Erausquin, “(w)e are only enrolling people with early disease. DBS is most likely to be helpful early in the course of the illness. We seek people who already have symptoms and in whom it is confirmed, through analysis of proteins in the brain and spinal fluid, that Alzheimer’s disease is the underlying cause for those symptoms.” He said, “(b)eing able to stop symptoms from progressing might mean that a patient could continue to drive to the store, to church or to another family member’s home. That ability is quickly lost if symptoms advance.”

“The study doesn’t aim to reverse disease progression. No current therapy does that. At this point, being able to arrest the decline in individuals who have a diagnosed form of Alzheimer’s and have symptoms would be a ‘major achievement,’” Dr. de Erausquin said.

Plans for the Study

Dr. Papanastassiou plans to enroll patients in the study worldwide, and when it comes to the devices, they’ll be either high frequency or low frequency to see which one works better.

For Jane, they hope to see her again in a year to see how she is doing. Today, she and her husband are active in a senior citizens’ group and Jane retains her interest in educating others. She works as a part-time college lecturer. She hopes to shatter the stigma that goes along with having Alzheimer’s disease. “With Alzheimer’s disease,” she says, “people automatically think a person is stupid and can’t do anything. That’s not the way it is. I don’t want to be saddled with that burden.”

For information on the clinical trial, including potential eligibility, visit and fill out the questionnaire to see if you or your loved one may qualify for the study.

Medicaid Asset Protection for Alzheimer’s Patients

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance.

If you or a loved one is nearing the need for long-term care, or is already receiving long-term care, or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us at one of the numbers below to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-143
Elder Care Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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