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MIT Breakthrough Shines Light on New Alzheimer’s Treatment

For those of us getting up in years, there are few things scarier than the A-word: Alzheimer’s. The disease affects one in nine Americans over the age of 65.1 If you’ve been unlucky enough to have a loved one suffer, you know how devastating the effects of the disease can be on the mind.

A lot of early and experimental treatment is centered around expensive treatments that may be unrealistic for most Alzheimer’s sufferers.  That’s why a breakthrough study this year from a group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is so exciting. But before we explain just what these researchers at MIT have found, we need to delve into the science of Alzheimer’s disease.

This Sticky Protein Is Thought
To Cause Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s is caused largely by sticky deposits of beta-amyloid peptides. Beta-amyloids are a naturally occurring protein that the body produces. In a healthy brain, these proteins are cleaned out and eliminated. The problem occurs when the brain can no longer clear out beta-amyloids, and a plaque begins to form between neurons.

When enough plaque forms, cell-to-cell communications are blocked so that neurons can no longer speak to one another. The beta-amyloid plaques also block healthy cells called microglia from going to work cleaning out damaged and disabled ones. These factors cause the decline in cognitive function and memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.2 

Naturally, scientists have long wondered what can be done to the mind in order put these microglia back to work and reduce beta-amyloid plaque build up. Their latest research is has nothing to do with nutrients or brain games but something much more revolutionary. 

The Unexpected Effects Of
Flickering Light On The Brain

Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, led by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, now have a new theory.3 They propose that people suffering from Alzheimer’s do, in fact, store new memories in their brains. The trouble is with accessing these memories. 

The MIT neuroscientists reported in the journal Nature that they were able to retrieve these “lost” memories. The method used is nearly as shocking as the discovery itself. With mice as test subjects, the researchers utilized a technique called “optogenetics,” which involves using flickering lights to synchronize the firing of neurons.

The MIT team found that exposing mice with Alzheimer’s to light flickering at 40 hertz could stimulate “gamma” brain waves and reduce beta-amyloids. After an hour of exposure, beta-amyloids in the hippocampus – the brain’s memory storage center – were reduced by 50 percent.4 

The mechanism of the treatment is still speculative, but the MIT researchers believe that the stimulated gamma waves increased microglia activity. Microglia cells work as kind of “garbage men for the brain,” clearing out waste like beta-amyloid plaque. Once these plaques are clear, neural communication – and in turn cognitive function – is returned to normal. 

MIT Research Says This Activates
"Garbage Men For The Brain"

These new optogenetics treatment have massive potential, and Dr. Tsai, the lead author, is cautiously optimistic. “It’s a big ‘if,’ because so many things have been shown to work in mice, only to fail in humans.” But, he says, if the treatment were to work in humans, “the potential is just enormous, because it’s so noninvasive, and it’s so accessible.”5

In the meantime, it’s best to stick to what we know works in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Keeping your mind stimulated with crossword or Sudoku puzzles are both good. Taking proven brain supporting nutrients and walking for a half-hour a few times a week.

Here at Vitality Now we're looking heavily into this research and will keep you posted as more developments unfold.

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References:

1. "Latest Alzheimer's Facts And Figures". Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer's Association.

2. "Amyloid Plaques And Neurofibrillary Tangles". BrightFocus Foundation.

3. Trafton, Anne. "“Lost” Memories Can Be Found". MIT News.

4. Radowitz, John. "Flickering Lights Could Be Used In Breakthrough Alzheimer’S Treatment". The Independent.

5. Trafton, Anne. "Unique Visual Stimulation May Be New Treatment For Alzheimer’S". MIT News.

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