Light beam therapy provides new hope for strokes

Shooting beams of light into the brains of people who have had a stroke may help them recover, according to a new study.

As the BBC reports, a team from Stanford University School of Medicine have trialled a technique called optometrics, which uses an optic fibre to transmit light to part of the brain. By sending it to the motor cortex, which controls movement, it seems to stimulate neurons to form new connections. In lab studies, mice treated with the technique were able to walk further and faster than mice that had not been treated.

In the UK, people have 152,000 strokes a year. Most sufferers are over 65, but anyone can be affected, including children and babies. Strokes happen when a blood clot cuts off supply to part of the brain, killing off the cells in that area.

Existing stroke treatments must be administered quickly in order to restore blood flow and limit the damage, but by the time a patient is seen and correctly diagnosed, it can be too late to reverse the effects, which can include weakness, paralysis, vision problems, communication difficulties and fatigue.

However, scientists had previously observed that some brain healing happened in the months following a stroke. The challenge was how to maximise this, and optometrics may be the answer, or part of one.

The researchers’ next step is to fine-tune their technique so it can be used in clinical trials on humans. As well as being a potential treatment, it should help scientists learn more about how brain healing works, which could lead to a range of high-tech solutions for people with all kinds of neurological illnesses.

Image by Jeff Keyzer via Wikimedia Commons.

Diane Shipley