Healthcare, News

Light flicker ‘could prevent Alzheimer’s’

The MIT study holds out the prospect that artificial light could be tuned to play a preventative role in degenerative diseases.


GROUND-BREAKING research appears to show that flickering light can retard or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenges accepted wisdom in the lighting industry that flicker is neurologically problematic and holds out the prospect that artificial light could be tuned to play a preventative role in degenerative diseases.

The team of researchers, led by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, flashed a strobe light near rodents that had brain damage similar to that of Alzheimer’s patients. When the mice were exposed to the light for an hour, protective cells in their brains swallowed up toxic proteins that are correlated with the disease.

Dr. Tsai’s study involved using a light that flashes 40 times per second. That’s a slower flicker than standard mains-electricity flicker which is between 100 and 120 Hertz. It’s barely perceptible, yet appears to have dramatic effects. An hour of exposure resulted in a reduction in beta amyloid – the main constituent of the plaques which clog bran cells and cause Alzheimer’s – for up to 24 hours in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and vision. The outcome was more dramatic when the therapy was conducted every day for seven days.

It’s believed that the light works by stimulating an immune cell response. Microglia are the primary immune defence cells in the central nervous system. They seek out and destroy plaques, damaged brain cells, and infectious agents. When gamma waves were stimulated in rodents, the microglia was activated and cleared out more beta amyloid proteins.

The strobe light used in the study regulated gamma waves at 40 hertz in certain areas of the brain. Other frequencies did not have the same effect.

Experts have tried to use medication to inhibit plaque buildup, but the results have been discouraging. The light therapy seems to work better, and it doesn’t come with side effects. Moreover, light therapy is not painful or invasive.

Tsai’s researchers are extending their research to investigate whether the light can affect other regions of the brain. However, the results have yet to be studied in humans. Also, some experts argue that targeting beta amyloid isn’t the right course of action for Alzheimer’s research.

Still, there is a lot of excitement surrounding this work. If humans’ brains respond to the light the way mouse brains do, there is a great deal of promise in this innovative treatment which could have implications for interior lighting.


  • Lighting and health is one of the tracks at this year’s LuxLive 2017 exhibition and conference, taking place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November 2017. Entry is free if you pre-register HERE.


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