This Week in Research: An Alzheimer’s Pacemaker; The Problem with Compromise

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Traditionally, a pacemaker is surgically implanted in the heart to give that crucial organ a jolt when things start to get out of line. What if we could do the same thing for a very different organ — the brain?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins recently attempted the first surgical implant of a pacemaker-like deep brain stimulation device in a U.S. patient with early-stage Alzheimer’s. The device, which has been used successfully on people with Parkinson’s, may boost memory and reverse cognitive decline. A similar surgery was performed on six Canadian patients in 2010, and showed some encouraging preliminary results:  While one sign of decline associated with Alzheimer’s is a decrease in glucose metabolism (which indicates neuronal activity), the Canadians showed an increase instead.

“Recent failures in Alzheimer’s disease trials using drugs such as those designed to reduce the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in the brain have sharpened the need for alternative strategies,” said professor Paul B. Rosenberg, who is site director of the trial surgeries. “This is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically. It’s a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging of the population.” Ultimately, surgeons at Johns Hopkins (and a few other institutions) will place the implant in 40 trial patients over the next year.

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In case you haven’t heard, Congress isn’t so good at compromising. (Fiscal cliff, anyone?) But that’s perfectly fine, according to Johns Hopkins Carey Business School prof Brian Gunia, who argues that we shouldn’t be angling for either compromise or confrontation; instead, integration is the way to go.

In classic compromise situations, both sides split the difference — and both sides leave the table unhappy. “Calls to compromise stem from the assumption that both sides only care about one and the same issue (e.g., cuts) and have opposite preferences on that issue (e.g., large versus small cuts). If that assumption is true, then compromise is the best solution,” Gunia writes in the Baltimore Sun. But negotiation research reveals that most of the time, the two sides actually have many different priorities in play all at once.  “The two sides could agree to large cuts in exchange for lots of revenue,” he suggests. “This would not give each side 100 percent of what it wants, but it would give each side 100 percent of what it wants most. Both sides should prefer this solution to confrontation. More importantly, both would probably prefer it to compromise, as they can claim complete victory on their No. 1 priority, as opposed to partial victory on a potentially lesser issue.”



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