Scientists may have found a way to prevent and treat dementia by washing the brain.

Dementia, which leads to severe decline in mental ability, is the result of a brain infection. The infection can be caused by a disruption in the brain’s natural cleaning system, which then starts to gather excess protein which after decades leads to an infection possibly leading to a brain degenerative disease, such as dementia.

But researchers in University of Oulu in Finland have now developed a means to monitor the pulsation of the blood vessels in the brain. This is how the brain cleanses itself.

“We have examined these pulsations on a few dementia and traumatic brain injury patients. It seems very different from those of control subjects,” Vesa Kiviniemi, the university's principle investigator in neuroradiology, said.

The research group has developed a specific MRI, where the brain is photographed 10 times per second, from which it is possible to see any disruptions in the cleansing system.

The changes may appear years before the first symptoms of a memory and behavioural diseases and it may be possible in future to prevent diseases or treat them before any long-lasting effects on the brain.

“Product development is one of our main focuses. Because not everyone can get an MRI, it is crucial to develop alternative monitors, either portable or wearable, even a pillow that measures the brain pulsation during the night,” Kiviniemi said.

If any disturbance in the cleansing system is discovered in the MRI, it is possible to clean the brain with an ultra sound.

Encouraging results have been obtained from animal tests, where scientists successfully washed rats’ brain from excess plaque, resulting in better memory in the animal.

“We are still in the beginning, but now that we know that it (the treatment) is a mechanical thing, someone might discover all sorts of things. Now it feels like we have gotten a glimpse of hope,” Kiviniemi said.

Oulu Functional NeuroImaging (OFNI) research group has been given €1.2 million of research funding to further develop brain scanning methods.