New study will evaluate potential treatment for frontotemporal dementia

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island Hospital, a Lifespan facility, announced that researchers are studying whether transcranial magnetic stimulation can effectively treat frontotemporal dementia, which is a group of neurodegenerative brain disorders causing a progressive breakdown of language abilities. The pilot study, a collaboration among Rhode Island and Bradley hospitals and Brown University’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, will evaluate if TMS can improve participants’ language abilities and attention.

According to a hospital statement, the noninvasive TMS externally stimulates the brain to affect specific brain area functions. An electric current creates a magnetic field next to the patient’s skull and stimulates a portion of the brain. TMS has been used in research on conditions such as major depressive disorder, stroke and aphasia, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

“There is growing evidence for a potential role of high-frequency TMS to treat frontotemporal dementia,” Dr. Brian Ott, co-principal investigator and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital, said in a statement. “If we can show beneficial effects on cognition in this brief study of 12 participants, then we hope to get grant funding for a larger and longer-term therapeutic clinical trial in the near future.”

Lindsay Oberman, co-principal investigator, concurred, calling the research project “a necessary first step that will help us to understand the specific parameters and treatment outcomes … to incorporate into a larger study.”

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Funded by Rhode Island Hospital’s department of neurology, the research is based at the Lifespan Clinical Research Center. Although it is the second most common early-onset dementia, frontotemporal dementia is less prevalent than Alzheimer’s and has been less extensively researched, reported the hospital.

“Definitive clinical trials are now possible due to recent advances in diagnostic criteria, neuroimaging and assessment measures,” Ott said. “In addition to the important treatment implications, findings from this project will provide new insights into the compensatory mechanisms of the brain in degenerative dementia disorders.”

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