Lasers may help treat brain diseases

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

protein amyloid
Properly functioning proteins, like those on the left, are invisible in laser light. Harmful proteins, like those on the right, can be seen.

It’s always exciting to hear about laser technology, like those quantum cryptography-equipped computers with uncrackable coding, or MIT’s lightsaber material project. Well, now we have lasers being designed for medical cures! Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology and the Polish Wroclaw University of Technology have set their laser sights on treating brain diseases.

Their work focuses mainly on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which affect memory and movement, respectively. Both of these ailments are believed to be caused by something called “amyloid protein aggregates” – a build-up of protein in the brain. Usually, doctors treat this build-up with chemical medicines, but this can actually be harmful to the patients. In theory, the diseases can be cured if doctors are able to remove the aggregates, but there’s just one problem: it’s difficult to tell the bad proteins apart from the good ones!

Now, however, researchers can do just that… using lasers. “This is a totally new approach and we believe that this might become a breakthrough in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” said Piotr Hanczyc at Chalmers University of Technology. “We have found a totally new way of discovering these structures using just laser light.”

If this light technique can be perfected, scientists hope to destroy the toxic proteins with laser beams, rather than harmful chemicals!

Featured image courtesy of Wonderlane on Flickr. Image of protein unit and amyloid courtesy of Piotr Hanczyc.