Infrared LED could improve damaged nerve treatment

According to researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA), a handheld device that emits infrared light may hold the key to a quicker and safer treatment for people who suffer neurotrauma.

Assistant Prof Lindy Fitzgerald, a cell biologist who works in UWA’s School of Animal Biology, said the device worked by emitting red light from an LED (light emitting diode), which acted on proteins in cells of damaged nerves.

’It improves the actions of the proteins, helping the cells make more energy,’ Fitzgerald said. ’If the energy-making pathways of cells are working better, the cells don’t make as many toxic free radicals and nerve function does not deteriorate as much.’

Free radicals are reactive oxygen and nitrogen molecules that damage proteins, fats and DNA in cells, leading to the death of cells if they are not controlled.

Together with her UWA colleagues, Profs Sarah Dunlop and Alan Harvey, Fitzgerald has been awarded funds by the Neurotrauma Research Program of Western Australia to continue research in this area.

’If we can show that there are long-term benefits of treatment in animal models and then we can show good effects in human trials, it would be an easy and safe method to quickly treat people who have suffered neurotrauma, such as spinal cord injury,’ Fitzgerald said.

She said the device had already been approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration.