Under the leadership of pioneering neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai, the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute has become one of the most respected institutions in the world for patient care, research, and education. The RNI is performing first-of-its-kind research at its Morgantown facilities, as recently highlighted by a special double-length segment on “60 Minutes.” The response to the “60 Minutes” piece has been tremendous, with RNI receiving an influx of inquiries and interest, as well as additional financial support and publicity from The Tony Robbins Foundation.
These advancements in neurological science have the potential to make the future brighter for residents of West Virginia, the United States, and the rest of the world, with the world’s top physicians and researchers taking notice. The RNI team’s cutting-edge research focused on memory disorders is of particular interest. As the pioneering institution for new methods of detection and treatment, the RNI is forging a path that will have a lasting global impact.
With one of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s in the United States, West Virginia is deeply impacted by the disease. Projections show that 37 million people 65 and older could be afflicted with the condition around the world by 2050. To combat these numbers on a state and global level, the RNI is developing new methods of treatment to help better detect dementia and treat patients.
For several years, Rezai and his team at the RNI have been working on a new, non-invasive method of experimental therapy for Alzheimer’s. This promising procedure involves the use of focused ultrasound, which directs an array of ultrasound beams into the brain to open the blood-brain barrier, the biological seal that limits potential treatments from reaching the targeted area of the brain. When the barrier is temporarily opened, medication can be safely delivered to the specific area of the brain where it’s needed.
RNI researchers have been at the forefront of using focused ultrasound technology to open the blood-brain barrier, leading the first clinical trial in the United States for early-stage Alzheimer’s patients. “The blood-brain barrier has long presented a challenge in treating the most pressing neurological disorders,” Rezai said. “The ability to non-invasively open the blood-brain barrier in the brain offers a new potential in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Upcoming research will continue to move forward into the next phase, which involves using a next-generation antibody – lecanemab, marketed as Leqembi – to clear plaques using focused ultrasound treatment. Leqembi received FDA approval in 2023, following studies that showed the drug reduced the beta-amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and are associated with the decline in memory and cognitive function. WVU is the only institution in the United States to receive FDA approval to study delivery of Leqembi in combination with focused ultrasound.
“The next phase of the clinical trial will begin this year to explore how to further accelerate amyloid-beta removal in a shorter time with focused ultrasound in combination with lecanemab antibody,” Rezai said.
“This is an exciting time in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” Marc Haut, Ph.D., director of the RNI Memory Health Clinic, said. “We are hopeful that the work we are doing may lead to improvements in outcome for many other patients and their families coping with Alzheimer’s.”
Research at the RNI has the potential to change lives. West Virginia is disproportionately affected by dementia, and philanthropic support can help expand research efforts at the RNI to aid more patients than ever before. Donations to the RNI help invest in equipment, personnel, and other programmatic support necessary to expand to a 24-7 research operation.
To support Dr. Rezai’s focused ultrasound research, visit our secure online giving page. For more information on how to support RNI and help these worthwhile causes, contact Tara Covelens, senior director of development for RNI, at email@example.com or 304-554-0251.