Alzheimer’s disease affects tens of millions of people worldwide, robbing them of memory and, eventually, their sense of self. The illness will soon become a public health crisis as populations age and lifespans lengthen. So developing therapies that halt and hopefully reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s is crucial.
A group of researchers at MIT noticed that gamma oscillations in the brains of mice with the disease decrease before the development of beta-amyloid plaques that characterize the onset of Alzheimer’s. They hit upon the idea of shining LED lights into the eyes of these mice to stimulate the gamma oscillations in mice. As a result, the formation of beta-amyloids in younger, pre-Alzheimer’s mice was reduced, and plaques in older mice with Alzheimer’s disease were also reduced. The treatment also stimulated the work of microglia immune cells to clean out debris and toxic material to keep brain neurons healthy.
Thus far the effect is temporary, just occurring in the visual cortex and lasting for 24 hours for a one-hour treatment. Moreover, therapies that work in mice do not necessarily work in human beings.
Still, if research progresses, a new, noninvasive treatment for Alzheimer’s that avoids the use of drugs could be developed for the biotechnology industry. The treatment would not be a cure, since the effects are only temporary. But there could come a time when an Alzheimer’s patient might put on a headset every day, perhaps before going to bed or first thing in the morning, and spend an hour having their gamma oscillations stimulated to keep the disease at bay. The light therapy could be a cheap way to extend the lifespans and improve the quality of life for many tens of millions of people.
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