Professor John Mitrofanis (University of Sydney) and Professor Alim Louis Benabid (CEA-LETI Grenoble University) have been research collaborators for some years now, investigating the effects of near infrared light on the dopamine-producing cells damaged by Parkinson’s Disease.
Benabid developed the original deep brain stimulation implant which has become a standard part of Parkinson’s Disease treatment. The collaboration between Benabid and Mitrofanis’s research team aims to develop a near infrared deep brain implant for Parkinson’s Disease. With large financial support from bodies such as the Michael J Fox Foundation, Benabid and Mitrofanis have shown that direct exposure to near infrared light stimulates dopamine-producing neurones to resume normal function, develop new connections and, most excitingly, to create new dopamine-producing cells. Their careful research has led to the development of a near infrared brain implant, to be used in clinical trials in France in patients with more advanced Parkinson’s.
Their research team showed very clearly that near infrared light not only has a direct effect on Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, it also has an indirect effect. The helmet study elegantly showed that mice with chemically induced Parkinson’s, with only their bodies (not their heads) exposed to near infrared light improved in mobility and function. This has led the researchers to propose that the indirect effect of near infrared light is most likely transported by something in the blood stream, possibly one or more types of immune cells. Clearly the indirect effect is not as potent as the direct effect, hence their research focus on the deep brain light implant.
However, given the option of brain surgery or wearing a light hat, I’d be keen on a hat.
The big question, then is whether red lights shone on the head can do anything useful, apart from make the wearer look exceedingly vibrant. When we started playing with lights in 2015, we didn’t really know, but we thought it was worth having a try.
It has indeed been worth having a try, and we have been experimenting with light hats and documenting some exciting findings.