A new Tel Aviv University study reveals that hyperbaric oxygen treatments may ameliorate symptoms experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This revolutionary treatment for Alzheimer’s disease uses a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which has been shown in the past to be extremely effective in treating wounds that were slow to heal,” said Prof. Uri Ashery of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and the Faculty of Life Sciences, who led the research for the study.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, prescribed for conditions including embolisms, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness and fibromyalgia, involves breathing in pure oxygen in a pressurized room or chamber.

In this chamber, the air pressure is increased to twice that of normal air. Under these conditions, oxygen solubility in the blood increases and is transported by blood vessels throughout the body. The added oxygen stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

The TAU scientists used a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease and built a custom-made hyperbaric oxygen chamber suitable for small animals. Over the course of 14 days, the team administered hyperbaric oxygen treatment to the mice for one hour per day.

After the two weeks, the mice underwent a series of behavioral tests as well as tissue biochemical tests to understand how hyperbaric oxygen treatment affects the pathological signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The treatment was found to reduce behavioral deficiencies compared to the non-transgenic control mice. Remarkably, the treatment also reduced both plaque pathology and neuro-inflammation by about 40 percent.

A hallmark study

“We have now shown for the first time that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can actually improve the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and correct behavioral deficits associated with the disease. This research is extremely exciting as it explores a new therapy that holds promise as a treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” Ashery said.

The research was conducted by PhD student Ronit Shapira of TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences; Prof. Beka Solomon and Dan Frenkel of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and Faculty of Life Sciences; and Prof. Shai Efrati of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Sagol School of Neuroscience and Assaf-Harofeh Medical Center. It was published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

“There are serious clinical implications to this research,” said Shapira. “Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a well-tolerated and safe therapy used in clinics around the world for various medical conditions, including neurological disorders. Although further research is needed to elucidate the underlying beneficial mechanisms of the therapy and to evaluate its beneficial effects in various Alzheimer patient populations, it holds great potential for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Efrati called it a hallmark study.

“The beneficial physiological effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy were directly demonstrated on Alzheimer-affected brain tissue,” her said. “We assume that the main challenge in human use will be to initiate the treatment at early stages before a significant amount of brain tissue is lost.”

The researchers currently are testing the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen treatment on an additional mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease to investigate the mechanisms underlying its impact on the disease.