Flickers of light may double as noninvasive Alzheimer’s treatment

By Rebecca Burton • Published: March 14th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills. One thing that distinguishes Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of beta-amyloid (am-a-loid) plaques, or damaged protein deposits that hinder normal brain function.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature, a type of light therapy is showing promise as a new, noninvasive treatment for Alzheimer’s patients. A flickering light shone into a patient’s eyes might cause changes in brain waves, reducing levels of the faulty protein deposits. Research has suggested that people with Alzheimer’s have impaired brainwaves, which are considered essential for processes such as memory, perception and attention.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tested the light therapy on mice that were genetically engineered to develop the disease. First, they built a device using a string of LED lights that could be programmed to flicker at various frequencies and induce brainwave changes when shone into the eyes. They induced brainwave changes in the hippocampus, the region of the brain related to memory. After just one hour of light stimulation, levels of beta-amyloid proteins in the mice decreased by 40 to 50 percent. However, the levels of beta-amyloid proteins went back up to their previous levels within one day of the experiment.

The researchers are looking at whether these effects can last longer than 24 hours, and if the brainwaves can be induced beyond the visual cortex. The authors note that more research needs to be done before the flickering light therapy can be tested on humans.