For the first time a surgical study using a placebo control group has been performed by researchers at the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden on dementia patients. In this strange but important experiment, half of the patients received functional shunts and the other half non-functional shunts.
The 14 patients in this study had dementia secondary to hydrocephalus, a condition caused by excess cerebrospinal fluids (CSF) collecting in the brain. Hydrocephalus effects a person's ability to walk and process thoughts; memory is also impaired. Also the brain's white matter may be affected.
"MRI image showing deformation of the brain due to enlarged ventricles": image via Itnt.ethz.ch
Though surgery is not generally used for older hydrocephalus patients, in limited cases shunts have been used successfully in hydrocephalus patients to remove the fluid, but this experiment, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, is the first to compare memory, thinking, and movement ability in its subjects post-shunt.
The methods used in the surgeries of the 14 patients - 7 given functional shunts and 7 given non-functional shunts - might be considered immoral. However, the second group's shunts did open after three months, when the patients began to improve their cognitive and mobility skills as well as the first group.
“We believe that far more patients than is currently the case could
benefit from a shunt operation, which will require more resources,” said Magnus Tisell, docent at the Sahlgrenska Academy and consultant neurosurgeon at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.
“We also need to find out more about which patients are good
candidates for the operation and which shunt is best in each particular
sources: Breakthrough Digest, Journal of Neurosurgery, Laboratory of Thermodynamics in Emerging Technologies