Researchers using light simulation in bid to stop Alzheimer's disease developing

Researchers are exploring how to enhance brain activity through light stimulation in the hope of advancing a new strategy to prevent Alzheimer’s disease from developing.

The study is investigating new ways in which build-up of a protein toxic to brain cells, known as beta amyloid, could be halted with the use of light stimulation in areas of the brain which are particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde hope the 14-month study may lead to a new prevention strategy for Alzheimer’s in people at high risk of the disease, which is the most common cause of dementia.

Around 500,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer’s but currently there are no effective treatments or a cure, the university said.

Dr Shuzo Sakata, a senior lecturer at Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, is leading the study.

He said: “The lack of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease means there is an urgent need to develop new, innovative approaches to combating it.

“We have known for a long time that the beta amyloid protein is toxic to brain cells; it has recently been found that manipulating the activity of neurons can reduce the protein in some regions of the brain.

“But what is not well understood is how it can be used to do this across many brain regions at the same time.

“We are hopeful that this research can contribute to a new strategy for stopping Alzheimer’s developing, particularly in people who, owing to family history or genetic issues, are seen to be at high risk of the disease.”

The pre-clinical research will be focused on a brain area which communicates with many other areas and is among those most affected by Alzheimer’s.

It will discover whether activating neurons in this brain area, using light, can enhance fast brainwaves which are impaired in people with the disease.

The study will investigate whether such enhancement of brainwaves can reduce build-up of the toxic protein in a range of areas of the brain.

The research has received a grant of £50,000 from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dr Carol Routledge, the charity’s director of research, said: “Dementia is one of our greatest medical challenges, but research has the power to improve our understanding of the condition and deliver effective new treatments.

“With around 70,000 people in Scotland living with dementia and no new treatments in over a decade, pioneering projects such as these offer real hope in the fight against dementia.

“It is paramount that we can support researchers as they add crucial pieces of knowledge to our growing understanding of the diseases that cause dementia.”

Meanwhile in a separate study, research from the Universities of Dundee and Oxford has shown how combining the tetanus vaccine with a viral particle that normally affects cucumbers can be used to treat psoriasis and allergies, and may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists were able to take the protein coat of cucumber mosaic virus and incorporate a tetanus vaccine-derived protein structure, known to stimulate the immune system, in order to create vaccines to treat multiple chronic diseases.

The vaccine showed positive results in models of psoriasis and cat allergy and was shown to raise antibody levels thought to be beneficial in Alzheimer’s disease.

The paper is published on Monday in the journal Nature Vaccines.

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