New Laser Technology to Treat Alzheimer’s?

When I was kid, lasers were a thing of science fiction, but today, they play a part in our lives in many ways. In what are now called the B science fiction movies, lasers blasted people and things to smithereens.

The ideas of lasers began with the brilliant ideas of Max Planck in the early 1900s. Einstein built upon Planck’s work and proposed the idea of stimulated emission, but it took another 40 years before scientists were able to make Einstein’s stimulated emissions a reality. Today, we take lasers for granted and probably don’t realize the many uses of lasers. The beam that runs across the garage opening that acts as a safety trip for garage door openers is a laser. Virtually every store uses laser scanners to ring up purchases. Lasers are used to measure distances, heights and seismic movement. The distance to the moon is regularly calculated using lasers. Presentation pointers use a laser. Lasers are also used to make precision cuts in a variety of products. There are thousands of usages for lasers in today’s world, making up a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Researchers at Tokyo University of Science may have developed a new use for lasers, a use that could be life savers to millions of people, as reported:

Summary: Far-infrared free-electron lasers may be a new way in which we fight the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers report the technology can break down protein aggregates associated with the disease deep within the brain.

Source: Tokyo University of Science

Amyloid fibrils are a type of self-assembled proteins/peptides that take on a stacked sheet-like formation. Amyloid fibril aggregates are known to be a cause of several diseases–including Alzheimer’s–and therefore, it is of immense scientific interest to understand how these aggregates can be broken. Some types of amyloid fibrils also play a role in regulation of gene expression in some organisms. It is also thought that the fiber-like formats appearing in these aggregates act as scaffolds on which to cultivate biomaterials. Therefore, a suitable technique for breakdown or “dissociation” of amyloid protein fibrils is critical from the perspective of medical treatment, modification of biological structures and functions, and even biomaterial engineering. A collaborative group of Japanese scientists from the IR Free Electron Laser Research Center at Tokyo University of Science and The Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research at Osaka University, consisting of Dr Takayasu Kawasaki, Prof Koichi Tsukiyama, and Asst Prof Akinori Irizawa, has now shown that a far-infrared (FIR) free-electron laser (FEL), called FIR-FEL, can be used to break down amyloid protein aggregates, which is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary scientific research.

Dr. Kawasaki concluded:

“For the first time in the world, we have found that a rigid aggregate of amyloid fibrils can be effectively broken down using a free-electron laser in the terahertz region (wavelength 50-100 micrometers). Our next step would be to understand how FIR-FEL affects different types of peptide fibrils. Our research can fuel the development of novel treatments for intractable diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It could also aid the development of new methods for manipulating the structure of biocompatible materials.”

Like many such reports, further research is needed, but the preliminary research offers a new way to treat Alzheimer’s in the future. Could the light at the end of the Alzheimer’s tunnel be a laser light?

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