Flashing LED lights in the eyes of mice has been found to drastically reduce the levels of plaque in the brain, which in human beings can cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Research conducted by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that light encouraged protective cells to destroy harmful proteins that accumulate in the brain prompting the onset of dementia.
The rate of flicker required from the LED was found to be 40 flashes per second, which would be barely perceptible to the human eye. The device used consisted of a strip of LEDs that could be programmed to flash at different frequencies.
The MIT experts now plan to extend their investigation to include tests on humans and are currently in the process of collecting the correct permissions.
The build up of beta amyloid protein is one of the early signals that the brain is about to be beset by dementia and the plaque is thought to cause nerve cell death in the brain leading to memory loss.
It is thought that the light encourages brain cells damaged by plaque build-up to start to recover and begin firing normally again, resuming a regular pattern of brain waves.
In the MIT experiment amyloid plaque levels were found to fall by around fifty percent after one hour of light treatment every day for seven days.
However, plaque levels recovered strength in the hours after the treatment was administered. Repeating the treatment did lead to a sustained reduction though.
‘It’s a big ‘if’ because so many things have been shown to work in mice only to fail in humans,’ commented the lead scientist on the project, Professor Li-Huei Tsai.
‘But if humans behave similarly to mice in response to this treatment, I would say the potential is enormous, because it is so non-invasive and it’s so accessible.’
‘We have opened the door to an entirely new direction of research,’ Michael Sipser, dean of MIT’s School of Science added.
The scientists will now start to expand their work to concentrate on other areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, where memories are formed, which is one of the areas that can be devastated by Alzheimer’s.