Let There Be Light: Light Treatment Brings Hope to Alzheimer's Disease
Let there be light! It seems scientists need only two things to treat Alzheimer's -- a bulb and a few switches. Figuratively, of course. An hour's worth of light therapy per day has seen to break down Alzheimer's-like brain deposits in mice. And while this may seem like a long way to go for human treatment, the possibility of human trials is indeed promising.
Ed Boyden at MIT and his team exposed mice to lights flickering at 40 hertz. According to New Scientist, this appears to trigger brain cells to oscillate together and create gamma waves. This is a type of brain activity that is often weaker in people with Alzheimer's.
Interestingly, exposure to the light for an hour a day for a week has reduced the amount of beta-amyloid plaques in the mice's brains. According to New Scientist, the light seems to boost the activity of cells that clear amyloid and cut its production.
The usage of light treatment is a growing method of treatment in the field of the sciences. According to New Scientist, scientists have discovered that bathing in blue light just before surgery may even prevent organ damage.
Most Alzheimer's treatments are so far based on targeting the beta-amyloid, which makes sense because it is one of the hallmarks of the disease. However, several of these drugs may have produced good results in mice but not in people.
They may have reduced beta-amyloid occurrences but didn't seem to halt mental deterioration in humans. This is because beta-amyloids may actually be the wrong target. Scientists may want to start looking at tangles of tau protein that form inside brain cells.
However, Boyden's team has found out that their light therapy has actually reduced the number of tau tangles in the rodents' brains as well, but they still have yet to discover how.
Meanwhile, there's a catch. Beta-amyloid and tau tangles were only reduced in the animals' visual cortex and not in the memory areas that the disease damages first. Either way, Boyden still wants to give the new treatment a shot -- perhaps using a phone or a screen.
If direct light doesn't work, the group plans to induce gamma waves in the hippocampus via electrodes on the head or implanted into the brain.