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 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, soon to be used in clinical trials in France.
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 the immune cells in the blood stream. Clearly the indirect effect is not as potent as the direct effect, hence their research focus on the deep brain light implant.
In late 2015, our volunteers started “playing” with trans-cranial near infrared light, on the basis that it is able to penetrate through the skin and skull, it is non-invasive (no brain surgery) and it is safe. Our group’s work was not official medical research, but came from the interest of individuals in the rapidly evolving research into the effects of near infrared light on mitochondrial function, and the implications for neurodegenerative disorders.
The test case was a man in his mid seventies with a 7 year history of Parkinson’s Disease. Using 670nm LED strip, a “light hat” was fashioned, and used once daily for 20 minutes. Within a few months of daily light use, his symptoms had improved to the extent that his treating specialist suggested that other patients try it out. The group contacted Prof John Mitrofanis at the University of Sydney; he was interested and supportive, keen to see how the patients fared with light hats. He provided research findings that enabled the light hats to be improved, and he is writing up for publication some of the earliest case studies.
The light hats were made by the volunteers in the group and given to patients at no cost to the patients. As more people with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative disorders joined in, it became more important to the group that the gift of light hats was continued.
To this end, a not-for profit association is being established and it will seek charity status. The plan is to continue to make light hats available to patients through this organisation and to promote formal research into trans-cranial near infrared light for neurodegenerative disorders. Other volunteers are planning to do something similar in France.