Added on September 22, 2017 by Lucy_Wyndham
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It causes untold emotional pain and difficulty for the loved ones of the five million Americans currently suffering with the disease; but, at present, there is no cure. A recent study on light therapy emerged from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has created promise for a new therapy that might alleviate Alzheimer's suffering.
The MIT team, led by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, exposed mice with brain damage similar to Alzheimer's patients to light flickering 40 times per second, which is largely faster than the human eye can detect. This flashing light triggered the mice's brain cells to oscillate together, creating gamma waves, a type of brain activity that is often weaker in people with Alzheimer's.
At the same time, toxic beta amyloid proteins were reduced inside the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, by as much as 50%. These proteins have long been known to be associated with Alzheimer's, though researchers don't yet understand how these light waves impact them. What's especially promising, however, is that even older mice at later stages of the "disease" responded positively to treatment.
Most treatments aimed at Alzheimer's have so far been targeted at beta amyloids. While many of these drugs have had positive results in trials, they have failed to halt mental deterioration in human trials. The concern is that the actual problem is elsewhere.
Other studies have shown that light therapy as a treatment for Alzheimer's is proving promising. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that dementia patients who sat in front of a bright light for two hours each morning slept more deeply and for longer. A Dutch study published in 2008 suggested that bright light therapy in combination with melatonin improves symptoms of disturbed cognition, mood, behavior, functional abilities, and sleep.
These studies are not without shortcomings, however. Mice do not have Alzheimer's; instead, scientists create genetically modified "mouse models" that mimic some (but not all) Alzheimer's symptoms. It's not uncommon for treatments to look promising in mice and yet ultimately fail to impact humans positively; human trials are still necessary.
Ultimately, light therapy and gamma wave stimulation continues to be a promising therapy for people with Alzheimer's. Even if this treatment itself proves unhelpful, this study opens up whole new avenues of research. The hope is that reducing the symptoms will alleviate suffering for the many millions of patients--and their families--who suffer now from the disease.