Light used to slow Parkin­son’s

The West Australian - - NEWS - Brigid O’Connell

The power of light is emerg­ing as a promis­ing way of slow­ing dev­as­tat­ing brain con­di­tions such as Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Clin­i­cal tri­als are un­der way across the coun­try test­ing whether ap­ply­ing “laser hel­mets” to the head of pa­tients can im­prove symp­toms and halt dis­ease pro­gres­sion.

But a new study from the Univer­sity of Syd­ney has found that ap­ply­ing low-level light to other parts of an an­i­mal’s body — par­tic­u­larly the ab­domen — can be even more ef­fec­tive at pro­tect­ing brain cells.

Low level laser ther­apy, or pho­to­biomod­u­la­tion, has been used for the past 50 years — typ­i­cally to treat pain or in­flam­ma­tion — but ev­i­dence is emerg­ing of its po­ten­tial ben­e­fit for the brain.

The Syd­ney team first showed in 2010 that by shin­ing this near in­fra-red light on to the heads of mice with Parkin­son’s dis­ease, it could pro­tect against the loss of brain cells.

“Fol­low­ing that, we’ve done heaps of stud­ies that have used dif­fer­ent wave­lengths of light, al­ter­ing when we give the light — ei­ther be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter the in­jury — and we con­sis­tently show we can pro­tect the brain,” lead re­searcher Daniel John­stone said.

“The prob­lem you face mov­ing into hu­mans is that even at these longer wave­lengths we use, you lose about two-thirds of your in­ten­sity for ev­ery mil­lime­tre of tis­sue you pass through.

“We have thick skulls.” Dr John­stone said as his team was driven to find an al­ter­na­tive de­liv­ery, they were spurred on by in­ci­den­tal find­ings in stud­ies by other lab­o­ra­to­ries around the world that had used light to treat wounds and chemother­a­pyre­lated mouth ul­cers, that could re­pair tis­sue that was not di­rectly ir­ra­di­ated.

Af­ter suc­cess­ful stud­ies in mice us­ing this re­mote light de­liv­ery, their most re­cent proof of con­cept study in three Parkin­son’s dis­ease mon­keys, found that de­liv­er­ing light to the head gave no neu­ro­pro­tec­tion.

De­liv­er­ing it to the lower legs de­layed the on­set of symp­toms, while shin­ing the light on its ab­domen pre­vented the an­i­mals from show­ing symp­toms of the dis­ease.

The re­sults were pre­sented at the Aus­tralasian Neu­ro­science So­ci­ety’s an­nual sci­en­tific meet­ing this week.

Dr John­stone said while their find­ings had in­formed hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als us­ing this re­mote de­liv­ery tech­nique in Adelaide, Bris­bane and Syd­ney, they would now re­turn to mice stud­ies aim­ing to con­firm the find­ings.

US pho­to­biomod­u­la­tion ex­pert Michael Ham­blin, who con­ducted in a na­tional tour pro­mot­ing laser ther­apy re­search in brain dis­ease to an au­di­ence of Aus­tralian health pro­fes­sion­als, said while the field had suf­fered a “bad name, a sense of quack­ery” be­cause of false claims, sci­en­tific ev­i­dence was chang­ing that.

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