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.
But a device called the Neuro RX Gamma headset developed by Canadian-based biotech company Vielight may be about to succeed where other drugs have failed.
The device works through a process called ‘photobiomodulation’, where pulses of near-infrared light are directed to parts of the brain known to be damaged or harmed in dementia.
Dr Lew Lim, CEO of Vielight, the inventor of the device said: “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.
“We have a much bigger ambition than the drug trials. Drug developers are mainly either seeking to slow the mental decline in diagnosed cases, or seeking to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by intervening at pre-symptomatic stage.
“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.”
Around 850,000 people in Britain have Alzheimer’s but there are still no drugs available which can reverse the symptoms.
The device works by firing 40 Hz gamma waves directly into the skull using LEDs mounted on a headset. A separate nasal clip also channels light directly up the nose to the hippocampus, the part of the brain which is responsible for memory, and one of the first areas to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s disease.
The light boosts the mitochondria – the cells batteries – which produce fuel for the cells and improves their function and communication.
So instead of using medication to clear out the plaques and tangles of protein which cause Alzheimer’s, the device stimulates the brain itself to activate immune cells known as microglia, which sweep away the disease.
The new trial led by the University of Toronto will involve 228 people enrolled at eight sites in Canada and the US, half of whom will receive a 20 minute daily session at home, six days a week for a total of 12 weeks. The rest will receive a placebo.
In an initial safety trial involving five patients with mild to moderately severe dementia, all showed significant improvement after 12 weeks, with increased function, better sleep, fewer angry outbursts, less anxiety, and wandering.
Scans showed visible improvements in connectivity between brain regions and and an increase in blood flow. Once the therapy was stopped, the patients began to once again decline.