With a new $1.8 million grant from the Part the Cloud-Gates Partnership Grant Program of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital are launching a new clinical trial to test whether stimulating a key frequency of brain waves with light and sound can prevent the advance of Alzheimer’s disease pathology even before volunteers experience symptoms such as memory impairment.
“Because Alzheimer’s disease leads to neurodegeneration and cognitive decline, the best time for intervention may be before those symptoms even begin,” said Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. “We are hopeful that our safe, non-invasive approach of sensory stimulation of 40Hz gamma brain rhythms can have a preventative benefit for patients. We are very grateful to Part the Cloud-Gates Partnership Grant Program for their support in funding rigorous research to test this exciting possibility.”
In extensive testing in Tsai’s lab with multiple mouse models of Alzheimer’s, the light and sound stimulation technique, called Gamma ENtrainment Using Sensory Stimuli (GENUS), improved cognition and memory, prevented neurodegeneration, and reduced amyloid and tau protein buildups. The research showed that increasing 40Hz brain rhythm power and synchrony stimulated the brain’s immune cells and its blood vessels to clear out the toxic proteins. Early results from human testing at MIT show that GENUS is well tolerated and increases 40Hz power and synchrony, just like in the mice.
The new study, conducted in collaboration with neurologist Dr. Keith Johnson at MGH, will enroll 50 volunteers aged 55 or older who show signs of amyloid protein plaque buildup in PET scans but who remain cognitively normal. Experimental volunteers will receive an hour of GENUS light and sound stimulation in their homes daily for a year. At regular checkups, the team will monitor the effect of GENUS on amyloid buildup via PET scans as well as other biomarkers such as tau, and for changes in cognition, sleep, structural and functional MRI and other indicators of brain function and health.
The trial will be double-blinded, randomized and controlled, meaning that some volunteers will be exposed to non-GENUS light and sound during the trial to provide as a non-treatment comparison group. To ensure that bias does not influence the results, neither the volunteers nor the experimenters will know which volunteers are in which group.
Enrollment is expected to begin soon. For more information contact Patient Coordinator Gabrielle de Weck firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published on the Picower Institute website on August 25, 2020.