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Research shows flickering lights could be used in Alzheimer's treatment

PBR Staff Writer Published 08 December 2016

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered a non-invasive visual stimulation technique that can be potentially used for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have shown that using LED lights flickering at a specific frequency they can reduce the beta amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in the visual cortex of mice.

The possible treatment seems to work on the principle of inducing brain waves called as gamma oscillations.

During the research, the brain waves were found to be helpful in preventing production of beta amyloid and energize cells responsible for eliminating the plaques.

Picower Neuroscience professor, MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory director, and senior author of the study Li-Huei Tsai said that more research will be required to assess if a similar kind of approach can help in treating Alzheimer’s patients.

Tsai said: “It’s a big ‘if,’ because so many things have been shown to work in mice, only to fail in humans.

“But if humans behave similarly to mice in response to this treatment, I would say the potential is just enormous, because it’s so noninvasive, and it’s so accessible.”

To implement similar tests in humans, a company called Cognito Therapeutics has been formed by Tsai and Ed Boyden, MIT Media Lab biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences associate professor and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

MIT School of Science dean Michael Sipser said: “This important announcement may herald a breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, a terrible affliction affecting millions of people and their families around the world.

“Our MIT scientists have opened the door to an entirely new direction of research on this brain disorder and the mechanisms that may cause or prevent it.”

Alzheimer’s patients are believed to have impaired gamma oscillations as hinted by earlier studies on the brain disease. Brain waves in the range of 25-80 hertz have been attributed for aiding in normal brain activities like attention, memory and perception.

Image: Senior author of the study, Li-Huei Tsai Li-Huei Tsai. Photo: courtesy of Bryce Vickmark.