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Could Light Be a Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease?

light treatment for Alzheimer's disease

Results of a new animal study suggest that use of specific types of light could be a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment approach has been used in cancer patients but not in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases.


Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a challenge as scientists struggle with verifying the exact causes of the disease, the degree of involvement of various contributing agents, and identifying risk factors. This latest finding from a research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Bionano Center at the Korean Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB) offers a potential new treatment approach.

The treatment was used on fruit flies that were produced to model Alzheimer’s disease on invertebrates. The team prevented the accumulation of beta-amyloids by using blue LED lights and a biocompatible organic compound called a porphyrin inducer. (Porphyrins are a type of pigment.)

Deposits of proteins called beta-amyloids in the brain are believed to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. When fragments of beta-amyloids accumulate, they form plaque, which can attach to receptors on nerve cells and begin a process that destroys nerve connections (synapses) with other nerve cells.

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In this study, the experts observed that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the fruit flies, including damage to the synapses, death of nerve cells, and reduced longevity, were alleviated when the light treatment was used. Basically, when the LED lights were projected onto the fruit flies, which had been given the porphyrin, the formation of beta-amyloid accumulation was disrupted.

In addition to this significant benefit, the authors also noted that use of light treatment also resulted in the need for less medication and the presence of fewer side effects. According to Professor Chan Beum Park, who led the research study, “This work was significant as it was the first case to use light and photosensitizers to stop deposits of beta-amyloids.”

Naturally, much more research is necessary to determine the impact of light treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in people.

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Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Park CB et al. Photo-excited porphyrins as a strong suppressor of B-amyloid aggregation and synaptic toxicity. Angewandte Cheie 2015
Stanford Medicine. Scientists reveal how beta-amyloids may cause Alzheimer’s