Light Therapy Shows Promise in Breaking Down Plaque Linked to Alzheimer’s

The new research shows how light and oxygen can break down the plaque that is thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease much in the way detergent breaks down dirt.

A doctor points to PET scan results that are part of a study on Alzheimer’s disease. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

(CN) — A single molecule shows promise to disrupt Alzheimer’s disease hold on the brain and give the immune system a fighting chance.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo published the results of their study Tuesday in the journal Brain from Oxford University Press.

Roughly 5.8 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease in 2020 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and around 50 million people across the world had some form of dementia, one of the hallmark symptoms of the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The process that disrupts cell function in the brain is thought to be attributed to an accumulation of amyloid proteins that form a debilitating plaque or clumps on the brain.

The devastation brought by the disease can rob a person of their memories and other mental functions, but symptoms typically materialize years after the first accumulations of the amyloid clumps. Some treatments can slow down the formation of the plaque, but a new therapy revealed by the neuropathology and neuroscience lab at the University of Tokyo relies on the cause and effect between light and oxygen.

This technique could possibly breakdown plaque much in the way detergent or “oxygen bleach” breaks down dirt.

Researchers say they have developed a light-sensitive molecule they call a photo-oxygenation catalyst, which they injected into live mice with Alzheimer’s disease. While the catalyst remains mostly dormant as it rests in the cells, it activates when hit with near-infrared light.

Researchers used this light therapy on mice brains for 30 minutes each day for one week and saw signification reductions in the amyloid proteins. According to the researchers, they successfully disrupted the amyloid structures by changing the chemical bonds holding them together.

After destabilizing the plaque, the body’s immune system takes over and clears away the damaged cells — a phase the researchers saw occurring in mouse cells growing in a dish. The brain’s immune system enveloped the oxygenated amyloids and broke them down in acidic compartments.

“Our catalyst binds to the amyloid-specific structure, not to a unique genetic or amino acid sequence, so this same catalyst can be applied to other amyloid depositions,” said study author Taisuke Tomita, a professor at the University of Tokyo.

Before they used the catalyst molecule, Tomita and his team expected a mild reaction.

“But once we induced the reaction in the brain, amyloid was disappeared quickly…Wow!” Tomita said in an email.

Researchers also used their technique on human brain samples donated by Alzheimer’s disease patients and saw promising results. The catalyst light therapy in theory could be used to remove amyloid proteins throughout the body regardless of when the proteins formed.

The study authors next want to modify their therapy to activate the photo-oxygenation catalyst by shining infrared light through a skull. And future applications of this catalyst model could be used to treat other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, familial amyloid polyneuropathy, and dementia due to atrophy in the brain.

“I believe that continuous efforts and unveiling new sciences pave the way to overcome (any) diseases,” said Tomita.

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