During a pilot study, led by Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University and Dr Gordon Dougal of Maculume Ltd., transcranial photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T) has shown significant improvement to the sleep quality and memory of individuals.
Six minutes of PBM-T, twice daily at 1068 nanometres in wavelength, significantly improved the brain processing and memory of healthy people aged 45 and over, over a period of four weeks.
Tracy Sloan, a 56-year-old in general good health with no diagnosed memory-impeding conditions, was one participant in the study. She said the therapy helped her “without a doubt”, and that during treatment she didn’t need to write things down in order to remember short messages. She also described a huge improvement in her quality of sleep and said that she “had more energy”.
So could this be beneficial to people living with dementia?
Dementia can be defined as an umbrella term for previously irreversible, neurodegenerative disorders in which damage to brain cells obstructs their ability to communicate with each other. PBM-T proposes a way to help. In this study, a fitted helmet delivers infrared light rays transcranially (through the skull) into the brain.
As a result of the radiation emitted, higher mitochondrial stimulation increases the level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) released in neurons and neuroglia (cells of the nervous system). This molecule is at especially low levels in dementia patients.
ATP acts by releasing energy to drive many key biological processes, including the nerve cell repair pathways required to reconnect damaged neurones of dementia patients.
In sufferers of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms seen are often a result of restricted blood flow to the brain through a narrowing, and eventual blockage, of its blood vessels.
PBM-T can improve the flexibility of the endothelium (the inner lining) of these vessels by increasing levels of nitrous oxides (NOs).
NOs act as retrograde neurotransmitters in synapses, allowing blood flow and oxygen to be supplied to the brain’s white matter. This matter is composed primarily of long-range myelinated axons, which are the insulated, impulse carrying part of nerve cells. So, a higher oxygen supply is potentially of huge benefit to dementia patients by increasing the nerve impulse conduction rate.
Interestingly, works in the US also involving Chazot and Dougal show a significant improvement in nerve connectivity using IR-therapy in mild to moderate dementia sufferers, regardless of their sex.
In a double-blind, sham-controlled clinical trial using near-infrared stimulation, two neurophysical assessments on 60 participants, in the form of mini mental state exams (MMSEs), were taken eight weeks apart: one at week zero before treatment was used, and one at week eight of treatment.
These showed significant improvement to memory performance and cognitive processing between weeks zero and eight for both males and females, as well as no significant difference in the efficacy of the treatment between the sexes.
This is hugely important, as it displays how despite differences in genetic profile, clinical presentation and gross anatomy, treatments like PBM-T still propose a hopeful, effective treatment to relieve and possibly reverse the life-limiting effects of mild to moderate dementia.
As well as physical improvements, caregivers of patients partaking in the study reported lifted moods and higher energy levels in the participants. This is consistent with effects observed in participants such as Tracy Sloan in the UK study.
Although more research is required, evidence suggests that infrared therapy could be helpful in managing other neurodegenerative diseases.
Potential benefits include improved motor function to patients with Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease and to those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, and restoration of blood flow, to promote nerve cell repair.
Clearly, methods of infrared light therapy show a very promising ability to improve and possibly reverse the progression of symptoms presented in dementia patients, and for other neurodegenerative conditions.
With hope for approval of these treatments to be used on patients in the UK soon, we are one step closer to overcoming the huge global challenge proposed by neurodegenerative disease.
Image: Durham University