What is Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and how can it be cured? PD is defined as being a progressive disease of the nervous system that is marked by slow imprecise movements such as shaking and rigidity that worsen over time. This disease currently affects more than one million people within the US while an estimated eight million people are living with PD worldwide. These numbers don’t include the thousands of cases that go undetected. It is also found more often in those who are 50 years of age or older.
Many would say that the cause of PD is unknown or idiopathic however, as noted in a previous article published on MedGadget, researchers at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, JP and University of Otago, NZ have since determined that it can be associated with the “degeneration of the basal structure of the brain,” or the basal ganglia, “and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine”. This transmitter is a key transmitter within the central nervous system and is responsible for sending signals to and from brain neurons. Researchers have also found that dopamine is a key component when it comes to helping with the control of muscle movement. However, one dose of dopamine isn’t able to cure Parkinson’s because it would have to be injected over a certain period of time and at a controlled dosage.
The researchers at OIST and UO created a method of “encapsulating dopamine within liposomes that can then be released using a femtosecond (FS) laser”. Liposomes are fatty spherical structures or bubbles that are often artificially created in order to carry drugs or other substances into tissues as a means to treat cancer and other diseases. The substances within these liposomes only come into contact with outside cells and tissues when the liposomes have been ruptured by an external force. The researchers utilized an FS laser that was capable of cracking open the liposomes in order to release dopamine in precise dosages which were then determined by the length of time the laser had been activated.
This research is still being tested however the research team believes that this technology may eventually lead to medical implants that release encapsulated dopamine. The dopamine would then be activated by using a tiny laser thus replicating the same process of release found within the brain.
There are many ways to go about finding the cure or treatment for Parkinson’s and when it comes to laser technology there remains a wide array of options and techniques. Another group of researchers chose to focus on a completely different component. Researchers at Chalmers worked alongside researchers from Polish Wroclaw University of Technology in order to determine the exact cause of PD and which method best detects these causes. Their results were both insightful and stunning.
They determined that properly functioning proteins can be damaged by toxic amyloid fibers or fibrils. After a prolonged period of time, damaged amyloid fibers start to function poorly thus taking a toll on the human body. These toxic fibers have also been linked to other diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The team’s results concluded that toxic amyloids would have to be targeted and removed by using lasers however these malfunctioning proteins and protein aggregates are currently being treated with chemicals which are highly toxic to the human body.
The research performed by those at Chalmers and PWUT provides opportunities for scientists to develop other optical techniques which enables current and future researchers to detect and study amyloid structures. For example, multi-photon laser technique can be used to distinguish the damaged proteins (protein aggregates) from the healthy ones by removing the protein aggregates thus curing the disease while malfunctioning proteins may be able to be detected through photoacoustic therapy or the use of laser light which delivers flash heating to specific tissue locations in order to destroy a specific target. Their research also suggests that new protein-based materials could be designed for specific applications within photonics and related fields.
While it is true that numerous other research teams believe that the cure for PD is through photo therapy (light therapy) which is the act of utilizing emitted light in the treatment of physical or mental illness for a prescribed period of time, we can still all agree on one thing: that the final cure to PD remains a mystery and that any treatment involving the use of lasers may just be the way to go.
For further information on the studies conducted by the researchers at Chalmers and PWUT visit Nature Photonics at: http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/v7/n12/full/nphoton.2013.282.html