Could a Light-Based Treatment be the Key to Treating Alzheimer’s Disease and other Brain Disorders?

Michael R. Hamblin, PhD, a principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, recently wrote an article in Photonics Media detailing the potential of a light-based therapy called photobiomodulation (PBM) to treat disorders of the brain. Here are five things to know:

1. Scientists have had difficulty developing effective pharmaceutical treatments for degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and memory loss. Brain damage resulting from strokes, chronic head injuries and heart attacks, psychological disorders include depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD, and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD also impact millions of people each year.

2. Photobiomodulation (PBM), formerly known as low level laser therapy (LLLT), is a therapeutic light treatment that has been shown to stimulate healing, prevent tissue death and relieve pain and inflammation. But can it also help with these disorders of the brain?

3. The research so far suggests that it can. Dramatic improvements in treating head injuries and strokes can sometimes be seen after only a few 20-minute applications of PBM to the head, Hamblin writes.

4. There are now several companies designing light-emitting helmets to treat brain disorders, and the development of new LED-based technologies has made the treatments safe for home use.

5. Hamblin says that to realize the potential of this technology, “We need a better understanding of the mechanisms, convince a skeptical medical community and overcome competition from pharmaceutical companies. However, the potential rewards for patients and society make the effort worthwhile.”

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