The Optoceutics team. From the left: Gustavo Feijóo Carrillo, Jeppe Sloth Olsen, Marcus S. Carstensen and Jakob Hildebrandt Andersen

Danish Start-Up Seeks to Cure Alzheimer’s Disease Using Light Technology

Optoceutics’ ‘invisible’ stroboscope lights stimulate the brain’s natural clean-up process. The hope is that the light can be used for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Worldwide, approximately 50 million people are living with dementia, and there are no effective clinical or therapeutic treatments to stop the disease from developing.

In 2016, a team of researchers and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted experiments with mice that showed that rapid flashes of light at a frequency of 40 times per second stimulated their brains and stopped the progression of neurodegeneration, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Based on this breakthrough discovery, the Danish and American start-up, Optoceutics is striving to create a solution for human beings that can have the same positive impact. According to Marcus Carstensen, who is a physicist, engineer, and doctoral student at DTU Fotonik and co-founder of Optoceutics:

“Our solution builds upon MIT’s findings, which show improvement in cognition and reductions in the amount of amyloid-beta and tau proteins in mice brains by up to 58 per cent following one hour of stimulation per day over 3-6 weeks of treatment. Our aim is to transfer these results from mice to humans with a patient-centric approach.”

The hope is that Optoceutics’ technology will show similar results in humans as with the mice studies, where the light activated specific regions and cell types in the brain to stimulate its natural cleansing process. In the mice, this reduced the neuroinflammation and toxic protein structures, which are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

In Carstensen’s words: “The solution is in essence a lamp used for light therapy that the patient uses for about 1 hour a day. It emits light that synchronizes the brainwaves. Some people refer to the light therapy as a simple pacemaker for the brain. The analogy is, that the synchronous flashing of light helps to regulate the abnormal brain rhythms observed in humans and mice models with Alzheimer’s.”

A solution that is seamless and undetectable to the human eye

According to Jakob Hildebrandt Andersen, CCO and co-founder of Optoceutics, several research institutions are working on similar technologies with 40 Hz, but Optoceutics stands out for having developed a light source that flickers with mixed colours, such that that the flickering is undetectable to the human eye and can therefore be used for longer periods without causing nausea, or visual disturbances.

“40 Hz light therapy is pioneering since it potentially can have an effect on the proteins that cause neurodegeneration. But we want to do more than that. Looking directly into a 40 Hz stroboscopic light is relatively uncomfortable. Our solution is unique, as we mix different combinations of lights and colours such that you can’t see it flickering,” Andersen explains.

The team is resolved to come up with a solution that is as seamless as possible.

“We are focusing on the user experience and design. The other proposed solutions include wearing light emitting glasses and earplugs, but if you are developing a treatment, that eventually has been used every day for the rest of your life, you need to think carefully about the user and patient”, Andersen points out.

If the solution proves effective, it can be used both as a treatment and as a preventive agent to combat Alzheimer’s disease. The lamp can be discreetly installed into people’s homes, so that they can benefit from treatment without even noticing it.

The company’s CEO is an American neurobiologist, Mai Nguyen who is based at the University of California, Berkeley. Its co-founders include Jes Broeng, a professor of photonics and director at the Centre for Technology and Entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU); Paul Michael Petersen, director of research for photonics at DTU; and Marcus Carstensen, who is an engineer in physics and doctoral student at DTU Fotonik.