Light Therapy: Promising Treatment for Parkinson’s

March 20, 2009

(ChattahBox)—A group of researchers from Stanford University in California, recently announced a promising new treatment for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease using light therapy. The novel new light therapy used brain stimulation on rats with light-activated neurons. Many of the millions of Parkinson’s patients in the US have shown improvement and relief from the devastating symptoms, after conventional deep brain stimulation, which works by awakening misfiring brain cells. This new therapy jolts brain cells awake with flashes of light.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition of the central nervous system, which causes muscle rigidity, tremors, impaired speech and motor skills, and often death. An estimated 14,593 people die every year from complications of this debilitating disease. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but a few treatments help to relieve the symptoms, such as deep brain stimulation, surgery and dopamine. Unfortunately, these treatments are not effective for all Parkinson’s patients.

The new light-activated neuron therapy is promising because it is non-invasive. The therapy is referred to as optogenetics, which uses extremely light-sensitive proteins called channel rhodopsins. Scientists found that inserting the harmless rhodopsins into brain neurons allows the cells to become activated when flashed with light.
Researchers re-set the biological cells of rats and stimulated them with light flashes. Researcher Karl Deisseroth, stimulated neurons branching into the subthalamic nucleus and flashed them at a pre-determined rate. The rats showed relief from their symptoms after scientists changed the rate of light flashes. As the neurons located in the subthalamic nucleus section of the brain are close to a person’s scalp, this therapy can be performed without invasive surgery.

Scientists are not entirely sure how the light therapy works, but the results are promising for a new, non-invasive therapy for Parkinson’s patients. Scientists involved in the light treatment research, also intend to study the technique to treat depression and other conditions. This exciting new field of optogenetics could have implications for every cell in the human body, leading to new discoveries.


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