Beacon Transcript – Flashing lights may prove to be helpful and work as a potential treatment in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease, according to an MIT team of scientists.
Alzheimer’s Disease or AD is the most common form of dementia. The neurodegenerative disease has come to be amongst the nation’s principle causes of death.
With the number of potential sufferers being expected to rise over the next few years, there still is no available cure.
But a team of scientists may have taken a step forward in the AD fight. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT announced a new breakthrough in the area.
The team of scientists was led by Li-Huei Tsai. Tsai is a professor of neuroscience and MIT’s Institute for Learning and Memory director.
He is also the co-founder of Cogito Therapeutics Inc, a company formed so as to advance the AD research.
Tsai and his team published their research results in this week’s issue of the Nature journal.
The team of researchers found that flashing lights can help reduce beta amyloid plaques. Although quite a number of studies are being carried out, the exact cause of the disease has yet to be determined.
However, scientists believe that beta amyloid plaques and their toxicity are amongst its most possible causes.
As the team experimented with flickering lights, it found that they may help reduce the number of said plaques. The lights, which had specific frequencies, were observed to stimulate the neural circuits.
Their proposed treatment works by inducing electrical signals. These are known as gamma oscillations and can be triggered by the flashing lights.
The flashing lights effects were seen to be quite various, besides helping reduce and dispose of the amyloid plaques.
As such, they also suppressed amyloidogenesis, which means they prevent the appearance of new plaques. Flashing lights may also help invigorate microglial cells. As they, in turn, break up, this would help with the amyloid plaque disposal.
Tsai and his team based their research on previous observations of mice. The animals had quite elevated amyloid beta levels, but no significant plaque accumulations. They also did not show overt AD symptoms.
However, during learning and memory related activities, the mice were seen to suffer from impaired gamma oscillations.
Gamma oscillations or brain waves usually range from 25 to about 80 hertz. They help normal brain functions such as perception, memory, and attention processes.
Previous studies have shown that AD patients may present impaired gamma oscillations in more than one brain region.
Still, the exact consequences of the impaired brain waves have yet to be determined. It is not known if the oscillations are altered early on in the disease.
The MIT team of researchers went to determine the potential effects of the oscillations on pathophysiology. As such, they used mice whose neurons had been genetically modified so as to be activated by flashing lights.
As the flashing lights treatment was applied on both incipient and advanced mice AD cases, it also had different results. A short such treatment in early cases saw a reduction of the amyloid plaques, but it was short-termed.
The flashing lights therapy was also used in advanced cases with better results. As in both early and advanced stages the therapy reduced the number of amyloid plaques by half, in the latter cases the effects did not mark a reversal.
With the team of scientists now trying to determine the therapy’s effects duration, flashing lights could nonetheless be a breakthrough.
According to Tsai, the flashing lights therapy could come to be a safer, simpler alternative. It would not necessitate chemicals, antibodies, surgeries and should not have off-target effects.
Tsai and her team of researchers will continue studying the effects of the flashing light therapy. In the future, they are also hoping to carry out human trial studies.
Image Source: Wikimedia