Unique visual stimulation may be new treatment for Alzheimer’s

Using LED lights flickering at a specific frequency, MIT researchers have shown that they can substantially reduce the beta amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in the visual cortex of mice.

This treatment appears to work by inducing brain waves known as gamma oscillations, which the researchers discovered help the brain suppress beta amyloid production and invigorate cells responsible for destroying the plaques.

Further research will be needed to determine if a similar approach could help Alzheimer’s patients, says Li-Huei Tsai, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and senior author of the study, which appears in the Dec. 7 online edition of Nature.

“It’s a big ‘if,’ because so many things have been shown to work in mice, only to fail in humans,” Tsai says. “But if humans behave similarly to mice in response to this treatment, I would say the potential is just enormous, because it’s so noninvasive, and it’s so accessible.”

Tsai and Ed Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, who is also an author of the Nature paper, have started a company called Cognito Therapeutics to pursue tests in humans. The paper’s lead authors are graduate student Hannah Iaccarino and Media Lab research affiliate Annabelle Singer.

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