Even outside science fiction, lasers may save the day. Researchers at Chalmers University in Sweden and Wroclaw University in Poland have determined that so-called photo therapy may effectively treat neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease Parkinson’s Disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Their findings may revolutionize therapeutic strategies for diseases currently considered incurable. 

In current scholarship, most neurodegenerative conditions are thought to the be result of detrimental protein accumulations. Essentially, clumps of faulty proteins cause neuronal cell death, which leads to the debilitating symptoms associated with diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The new study, which is published in the journal Nature Photonics, sought to investigate whether light-based therapy can be used to remove these degenerative aggregations. 

"Nobody has talked about using only light to treat these diseases until now,” lead author Piotr Hanczyc said in a press release. “This is a totally new approach and we believe that this might become a breakthrough in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. We have found a totally new way of discovering these structures using just laser light.”

Although previous studies have implicated the same accumulations of proteins, the current paper is the first to advance a reliable method of identifying and isolating such accumulations. By selectively eliminating these protein aggregates, photo therapy may be able to treat and cure neurodegenerative diseases without harming healthy tissue. Eventually, the treatment method may allow physicians and surgeons to phase out current chemical therapies, which are highly toxic and potentially harmful for patients. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, neurodegenerative diseases currently affect millions of people worldwide. The conditions, which are characterize by a gradual loss of nerve functions, usually result in mental decline and an array of cognitive impairments. Some aggressive conditions, like Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, are invariably fatal and usually kills the patient within a year. 

Source: Piotr Hanczyc, Marek Samoc, Bengt Norden. Multiphoton absorption in amyloid protein fibres. Nature Photonics, 2013