Medical experts in the North-East of England, UK, have found that safe exposure to infra-red light improves learning and cognitive functioning in the brain, and they are going to test the method by getting Alzheimer’s patients to wear an infra-red “helmet” for a short time every day.
The scientists believe the method can turn back the brain’s biological clock and reverse some of the early stage damage typical of dementia and memory loss.
Dr Gordon Dougal, a director of medical research company Virulite, in County Durham, came up with the idea of using infra red to repair damage to human brain cells after successfully developing a cold sore machine that boosts the body’s own ability to fight the virus instead of attacking it directly.
The idea has been tested independently by researchers at the University of Sunderland, who showed that low power infra-red light (1072nm) improved learning.
Human trials on patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s are due to start. The low level of infra-red light is the same as that which occurs in natural sunlight and is completely safe, said the researchers. The level of exposure is the same as that used in the cold sore machines, which have now been approved for prescription on the NHS.
The idea is that patients could use an infra red helmet for ten minutes a day in their own home and notice a significant improvement in the space of four weeks.
The researchers are hoping to start testing the idea on patients with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases this summer.
It is possible that the method not only halts but actually reverses the effects of dementia, said Dougal, who went so far as to suggest that one day the method might even be used to change the rate at which our bodies age.
“As we get older, cells stop repairing themselves and we age because our cells lose the desire to regenerate and repair themselves,” said Dougal.
“This ultimately results in cell death and decline of the organ functions, for the brain resulting in memory decay and deterioration in general intellectual performance,” he added.
“But what if there was a technology that told the cells to repair themselves and that technology was something as simple as a specific wavelength of light? Near infrared light penetrates human tissues relatively well, even penetrating the human skull, just as sunlight passes through frosted glass,” explained Dougal.
Neuroscientists at the University of Sunderland, Drs Dr Abdel Ennaceur and Paul Chazot carried out the independent research that confirmed Dougal’s findings. Chazot said:
“The treatment can indeed improve learning ability. The results are completely new this has never been looked at before.”
“Dr Dougal’s treatment might have some potential in improving learning in a human situation by delivering infra red through the thinnest parts of the skull to get maximum access to the brain,” he added.
Written by: Catharine Paddock