Study of Potential Frontotemporal Dementia Treatment Launches

October 12, 2016

Rhode Island Hospital Launches Study of Potential Frontotemporal Dementia Treatment

Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital have launched a pilot study of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as a potential treatment for frontotemporal dementia—a group of neurodegenerative brain disorders that cause a progressive breakdown of language abilities. A collaboration between Rhode Island Hospital, Bradley Hospital, and Brown University’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, the study will examine whether TMS can improve participants’ language abilities and attention.

TMS is a noninvasive investigational device that stimulates the brain from outside the head to affect the function of specific brain areas. An electric current creates a magnetic field next to the patient’s skull and stimulates a portion of the brain. TMS has been used in research on neurological and psychiatric conditions including major depressive disorder, stroke and aphasia, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

“There is growing evidence for a potential role of high-frequency TMS to treat frontotemporal dementia,” said Brian Ott, MD, co-principal investigator and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital. “If we can show beneficial effects on cognition in this brief study of 12 participants, then we hope to get grant funding for a larger and longer-term therapeutic clinical trial in the near future.”

Lindsay Oberman, PhD, co-principal investigator, said, “This groundbreaking preliminary research project is a necessary first step that will help us to understand the specific parameters and treatment outcomes we would need to incorporate into a larger study.”

The study will use the Neurostar XPLOR system to assess the acute effects of TMS in frontotemporal dementia. The research is funded by Rhode Island Hospital’s Department of Neurology and based at the Lifespan Clinical Research Center.  

Frontotemporal dementia is the second most common early-onset dementia. Because of its lower prevalence compared to Alzheimer’s disease, there has been relatively little research to find a treatment for patients with this devastating group of disorders.

Added Ott, “Definitive clinical trials are now possible due to recent advances in diagnostic criteria, neuroimaging and assessment measures. In addition to the important treatment implications, findings from this project will provide new insights into the compensatory mechanisms of the brain in degenerative dementia disorders.”

To learn more about this study, contact 401-444-5745 or

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Christina Spaight O'Reilly

Rhode Island Hospital