A team of researchers from the University of Manitoba is testing an experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The clinical trial is being led by Dr. Zahara Moussavi and will test the effects of magnetic fields on the brains of early stage dementia patients.

"Alzheimer's disease is a thief,” said Moussavi Tuesday. “It comes and it steals away the most precious memories that people identify themselves with."         

This is an experience thousands of Manitobans, including Moussavi herself have endured.

Her mother was diagnosed with degenerative brain disease that attacks the synapses connecting neurons.

Jay Doering, a colleague of Moussavi’s,  lost his mother to the disease in February.

"Friends would say to me, ‘I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your mother.' To which I replied, 'thank you, but in many ways I lost my mother many years ago,'" he said.

Doering and other researchers from the U of M were on hand Tuesday, as the Weston Brain Institute announced $1.7 million for Moussavi’s research.

The clinical trial will be run out of the Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg, where Moussavi has her lab, as well as sites in Montreal and Australia.

At the centre of the study is a process called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or rTMS.

It is typically used to treat depression, but based on results from an earlier pilot study, Moussavi believes it could slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

"There are some hopes that we may improve the condition of a patient if they are at the early stages. Or the least, we can slow down the progression and avoid further decline," she said.

The procedure involves passing a current through a patient’s brain using a coil that is placed on the forehead.

It produces a magnetic field that passes through the skin and the skull, and into the brain where it will generate a low electrical current.

"As the currents run through the brain itself, it causes the neurons to fire and by firing these neurons in a certain pattern we believe that we can train them to be more excitable over time," said Grant Rutherford, a PhD student working on the study.

The team is looking for 100 patients to volunteer to take part, and research is expected to take four years to complete.

Wendy Schettler, CEO of Alzheimer’s Society of Manitoba, thinks this is exciting research to have happen in Winnipeg.

She said many people will be interested in the chance to take part in a study of this nature.

"Often times when you are given a diagnosis of something you feel helpless and you wonder, ‘is there anything I can do if not to help myself, to help others?’"

The Alzheimer’s Society of Manitoba calculates there are 22,000 people in the province living with dementia.