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Georgia Tech, Emory researchers advance possible light and sound treatment of Alzheimer's

The treatment could potentially slow the disease's progress.

ATLANTA — New findings in a study by researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory could point the way to a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's with the potential to slow the incurable disease's advance.

The study published this month in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions examined whether a technique of flickering lights and sound - which has been found to reduce Alzheimer's in mice - was viable to try with humans.

It could lead to further studies examining the impact of the treatment on Alzheimer's patients, determining the method was "safe, tolerable, and adherable" and uncovering preliminary indications it "affects neural networks and immune factors in the nervous system."

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“We looked at safety, tolerance, and adherence, and several different biological outcomes, and the results were excellent — better than we expected,” Annabelle Singer, of Georgia Tech, told the school's website.

Singer worked with Emory researcher James J. Lah on the study.

The study took 10 people with podromal, or early, Alzheimer's and had them undergo "1-hour daily combined visual and auditory gamma flicker for 4 or 8 weeks," and all reported that it was tolerable.

"The findings from this pilot study support viability of testing long-term multisensory gamma frequency stimulation as a potential therapeutic approach," the study concluded, adding that the results, "support the feasibility of pursuing gamma audiovisual stimulation as a novel, non-invasive, non-pharmacological approach to treating individuals with AD."

The flicker treatment itself, according to the Georgia Tech website, "stimulates gamma waves, manipulating neural activity, recruiting the brain’s immune system, and clearing pathogens - in short, waging a successful fight against a progressive disease that still has no cure."

The study's authors wrote "we expect driving gamma frequency neural activity could be therapeutic in AD by altering immune signaling and by stimulating or preserving plasticity in neural networks."

The limited results of their study on this matter were positive, finding that the flicker method "strengthened functional connectivity between nodes" in what's known as the brain's default mode network.

“We looked at default mode network connectivity, which is basically how different brain regions that are particularly active during wakeful rest and memory, interact with each other,” Singer told the Georgia Tech website. “There are deficits in this network in Alzheimer’s, but after eight weeks [of treatment], we found strengthening in that connectivity.” 

There was also evidence the treatment method helped spark the brain's immune response to Alzheimer's.

Lah, of Emory, said that altogether their study had produced "some very good arguments for a larger, longer study with more people.”