Brain-Wave Treatment for Alzheimer’s Is Promising, but the First Human Subject Is Left Behind


Photo Credit: Coalition for Life Sciences
An Alzheimer’s patient sees improvement‚ but declines again when the study ends.

By Carolyn Weaver | Alternet

Peg Gleason, who is 83 and lives in San Francisco, was the first to sign up for the initial human trial of an MIT-backed experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease last January.

The trial had a slightly eccentric setting at the warehouse offices of TheraNova, a San Francisco-based medical-device developer. Seven days a week for seven months, until the study ended, Peg and her husband Ed, 85, were dropped off by Uber at a side door and taken to a small room inside an old metal vault.

The experimenters were “all very good and smart people, and they were all 32-and-a-half-years old,” Ed, a retired product manager for AT&T, joked.

“They put very large sunglasses on Peg with the lenses blacked out,” he said in a phone interview, in which Peg also participated. “[They] taped very small LED lights to them, so that when you put them on, all you saw were the four little lights on each lens. And they would be calibrated to flicker at 40 hertz.”

Along with the glasses, Peg was fitted with earphones that played a tone at 40 hertz, and pads on each hand that vibrated at that frequency. The treatment lasted an hour a day, with another 15 minutes for post-trial cognitive testing, and then the Gleasons were driven home.

The San Francisco experiment began last January, a month after Nature published an MIT study reporting that exposure to LED lights flickering at 40 hertz (40 cycles per second) was linked to a sharp reduction in beta-amyloid plaques—clumps of abnormal proteins—in the visual cortex of mice bred to develop an Alzheimer’s-like disease.

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