New light therapy for Alzheimer’s targets brain plaque, slowing or preventing the disease

A recent study carried out by a team of researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas has revealed that a relatively low-cost light therapy may help effectively eliminate amyloid beta proteins, which are precursors to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease onset. It has long been established that beta amyloid accumulation results in the development of the cognitive disorders. However, the scientific community has observed that drug treatments designed to target these proteins have not shown relative efficacy so far.

Now, the research team has developed an optic probe that glows over 100 times more brightly when it detects the fine fibers or fibrils of amyloid beta proteins. The concentrated light then oxidizes the fibers in order to prevent them from accumulating in the brain and affecting the patients’ memory. Likewise, the research team has identified a specific binding site for the harmful proteins, which in turn may provide a new avenue for drug treatment. The treatment could serve as a cheaper resource in disease treatment, the experts have reported in the journal Chem.

“There’s an interest in finding medications that will quench the deleterious effects of amyloid beta aggregates. But to create drugs for these, we first need to know how drugs or molecules in general can bind and interact with these fibrils, and this was not well known. Now we have a better idea of what the molecule needs to interact with these fibrils. If we can modify complexes so they absorb red light, which is transparent to tissue, we might be able to perform these photochemical modifications in living animals, and maybe someday in humans,” lead researcher Professor Angel Marti stated.


“While we cannot see the rhenium complex, we can find the oxidation, or footprint, it produces on the amyloid peptide. That oxidation only happens right next to the place where it binds. The real importance of this research is that it allows us to see with a high degree of certainty where molecules can interact with amyloid beta fibrils. We imagine it might be possible someday to prevent symptoms of Alzheimer’s by targeting amyloid beta in the same way we treat cholesterol in people now to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Professor Marti added.

Potential implications in Alzheimer’s disease treatment

The recent findings may show potential in enhancing treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. According to data from the Alzheimer’s Statistics website, the disease now affects nearly 44 million people worldwide. Likewise, the entry has shown that only one in four Alzheimer’s disease patients gets diagnosed. The numbers have also revealed that Alzheimer’s disease is most prevalent in Western Europe, and that the total global cost associated with the disease is estimated to be $605 billion. The cost equates to one percent of the entire world’s gross domestic product. (Related: New AI can diagnose Alzheimer’s 10 years before human doctors.)

Moreover, the statistics have shown that 5.3 million Americans currently suffer from the cognitive disorder. According to the data, this rate is expected to soar up to 16 million by 2050 unless a cure is found. People aged 85 and older are expected to make up as many as seven million projected cases in 2050. The findings have also shown that African-Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among patients aged 85 years and older, followed by Hispanics and Caucasians.

Experts have also noted that Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. The entry has revealed that one in three seniors die of the disease, and that the average life expectancy is between four and eight years after diagnosis. According to the data, the U.S. has spent as much as $236 billion in Alzheimer’s disease care in 2016 alone.

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