The researches are focusing on stimulating humans’ sense of smell to prevent conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease associated with memory problems.
The olfactory system, or sense of smell, is known to be dysfunctional in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
It is also shown that proper olfactory function can play a key role in regaining consciousness after brain injuries.
The Otago research centres around a wearable concept prototype — similar to Google Glasses — which produces small electronic pulses on the skin to stimulate the olfactory nervous system.
“Olfactory nerves have terminals deep in the brain regions which influence memory and navigation,” said lead author Yusuf Ozgur Cakmak, Associate Professor at Otago’s Department of Anatomy.
“We’re hopeful this method will help stimulate these networks to alleviate symptoms or suppress the progression of Alzheimer’s disease to Dementia. It also has potential to help coma recovery and Parkinson’s disease.”
Cakmak said that their promising early results, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, can pave the way for developing the world’s first non-invasive, wearable electrical stimulation system to target the olfactory regions.
Modulation of the olfactory regions has been attempted successfully with electrical stimulation previously, either directly – intraoperatively through the nasal bones — or indirectly through the vagus nerve.
This research sought to develop a means of delivering electrical stimulation to the olfactory region in a non-invasive fashion and in a way that is simpler, easier, and less cumbersome.
“Applying this treatment via a headset on a hair-free zone that can be worn in daily routine instead of more invasive treatments makes this method unique,” Cakmak said.
The multiple electrode configurations developed by the researchers were tested with the aid of electrical field modelling that was validated with direct human brain recordings during brain surgery.
The research team is collaborating with New York-based company Soterix Medical, a leading provider of non-invasive neuromodulation and brain monitoring technology.
The international team plans to test their wearable stimulator in a clinical trial soon.