Alzheimer’s disease could be reversed by shining light directly into the brain through the nose and skull, scientists believe. The first major trial to see if light therapy could be beneficial for dementia has just begun following astonishing early results which have seen people regain their memory, reading and writing skills, and orientation.
If successful it would be the first treatment to actually reverse the disease. So far, even the most hopeful drugs, such as Biogen’s aducanumab, have only managed to slow the onset of dementia, and many scientists had given up hope of reversing brain damage once it had already happened.
A 12-week trial into its effectiveness has just begun after early results saw patients regain their memory, as well as reading and writing skills, in three months.
With no known Alzheimer’s cure in sight, the headset offers a ray of hope for around 850,000 sufferers in Britain and nearly six million in the US.
Patients currently have to rely on drugs that lessen its symptoms. The new Neuro RX Gamma headset being tested was developed by the Canadian biotech firm Vielight.
Treatment involves wearing the device, as well as a separate nasal clip that channels light through the nostrils, for 20 minutes a day. The light is said to boost the mitochondria which give cells their energy, in a process called photobiomodulation. This then stimulates the brain to activate immune cells known as microglia, which fight the disease.
In Alzheimer’s patients these cells can become inactive and plaques can build up, stopping the brain’s normal function.
Amyloid plaque is one of the hallmarks of the currently incurable disease, which is the most common form of dementia.
A sticky build-up of plaque is thought to lead to the progressive destruction of brain cells. Neuro RX’s inventor Dr Lew Lim told The Telegraph: ‘Photobiomodulation introduces the therapeutic effect of light into our brain.
‘It triggers the body to restore its natural balance or homeostasis. When we do that, we call upon the body’s innate ability to heal.
‘Based on early data, we are confident of seeing some measure of recovery in the symptoms not just a slowdown in the rate of decline, even in moderate to severe cases.’
The new trial is being led by the University of Toronto and involves 228 people across eight sites in the US and Canada.
Half of the volunteers will receive the light therapy six days a week for 20 minutes for a total of 12 weeks. The rest will receive a placebo.
A safety trial last year involving five people with mild to moderately severe dementia saw all of their conditions improve.
They reported improved cognitive function, better sleep, fewer angry outbursts, less anxiety and wandering – all common side effects of the treatment. They also reported better memory.
Brain scans also revealed visible improvements in connectivity between brain regions and better blood flow, according to The Telegraph.
Once the therapy was stopped, the patients began to once again decline. Light therapy is already used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern – and traumatic brain injuries.
It is thought to trigger the release of serotonin – the happy hormone, promote better sleep, and stimulate areas of the brain that have shut down after damage.