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Posted: January 29, 2008

Infrared Helmet May Reverse Some Alzheimer's Symptoms: Research

British scientists have developed an experimental helmet they say could partially reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in a matter of weeks if worn by an Alzheimer’s sufferer for 10 minutes every day. Human trials are set to begin this summer.

Dr. Gordon Dougal, director of medical research for the British firm Virulite, says the strange-looking helmet works by emitting low-level infrared rays from the inside of the helmet toward the brain, thereby stimulating the growth of brain cells. Development of Virulite’s helmet follows a study at the University of Sunderland in northeast England which found infrared light can reverse memory loss in mice.

"Currently all you can do with dementia is to slow down the rate of decay -- this new process will not only stop that rate of decay but partially reverse it," Dougal told the Daily Mail newspaper in London.

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Dougal said his own stepfather has been using the helmet for some time with good results, adding that broader human trials are expected to start this summer.

In an interview earlier this week, Dougal told CBS News that his stepfather has shown significant improvement since he began wearing the helmet several years ago "for possibly six minutes twice a day, and it took about a month for us to notice an improvement. . . . He was remembering things better. He was being able to actually think better. He was able to articulate better. In effect, you know, he could drive himself around better. He could do almost everything better."

He told CBS his stepfather "went from someone who had trouble finding his keys to someone who could drive across the country in long trips. He is now 81 and deteriorating, but it gave him a good six or seven more years of competence."

In the University of Sunderland study, researchers found that exposing middle-aged mice to infrared light for six minutes a day for 10 days improved their performance in a three-dimensional maze. In the human trials, due to start this summer, the scientists will use levels of infra-red that occur naturally in sunlight.

"The implications of this research at Sunderland are enormous, so much so that in the future we could be able to affect and change the rate at which our bodies age," Dougal told the London newspaper.

"We age because our cells lose the desire to regenerate and repair themselves," he noted. "This ultimately results in cell death and decline of the organ functions for the brain, resulting in memory decay and deterioration in general intellectual performance.

"But what if there was a technology that told the cells to repair themselves and that technology was something as simple as a specific wavelength of light?"

Dougal explained in the CBS interview his view of the fully-functioning headgear: "How we hope it's going to work is that the infrared light will be facing inside the helmet onto the actual person, onto their skin, onto their brain, and actually goes on the frontal part of the bones, so it goes onto the actual front part of the brain and the side of the brain. The side of the head and their skull are relatively thin, so the light will penetrate the skull and treat the underlying brain tissue. And the top of the head is also quite thin, and the light will penetrate the brain tissue at that point.

"These are the crucial parts of the brain where your personality, memory and cognitive function are carried out.

"The back part of the brain is more motor function and more associated with vision, which perhaps is not as affected by age-related memory loss than perhaps the front part of the brain."

The helmet, which is not yet named, and Dougal’s comments have drawn interest from Alzheimer’s watchers and dementia support groups. In Britain, a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society told the Daily Mail: "A treatment that reverses the effects of dementia rather than just temporarily halting its symptoms could change the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people. We look forward to further research to determine whether this technique could help improve cognition in humans."

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