Bright Future: Near-Infrared Therapy for Brain Injuries

Near-Infrared Therapy for Brain Injuries
Near-Infrared Therapy for Brain Injuries. Credit | Getty images

United States – Low-level near-infrared light irradiating on the person’s skull promotes the healing of patients with severe traumatic brain injury, according to a newly published research.

Skull Transparency and Healing Benefits

The scientists said that patients who wore helmets that emitted near-infrared light also had a larger percentage of differences in connectivity in seven different areas of the brain, as reported by HealthDay.

“The skull is quite transparent to near-infrared light,” explained co-lead researcher Dr. Rajiv Gupta, a radiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Once you put the helmet on, your whole brain is bathing in this light.”

Study Methodology and Findings

In this study, researchers used near-infrared light therapy on 17 patients who had sustained a head injury severe enough to cause cognitive impairment or a visible lesion on a scan.

This light therapy helmet was applied to patients during the first 72 hours after a TBI, and the researchers relied on scans to determine the impact of the intervention. Another 21 patients were placed on the helmet but did not undergo light therapy.

The researchers targeted resting-state function connectivity or the connectivity that occurs between regions of the brain when a person is not involved in any activity.

They used MRI and scanned the brains of the players a week after the injury, two to three weeks after the injury, and three months later.

“There was increased connectivity in those receiving light treatment, primarily within the first two weeks,” said researcher Nathaniel Mercaldo, a statistician with Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We were unable to detect differences in connectivity between the two treatment groups long-term, so although the treatment appears to increase the brain connectivity initially, its long-term effects are still to be determined,” Mercaldo added in a hospital news release.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to understand the exact physiological mechanism behind these effects,” said researcher Suk-tak Chan, a biomedical engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Experts believe that light therapy will see increased studies in larger samples of patients over an increased period.

Long-Term Implications and Further Research

Light therapy may represent a treatment for many other neurological disorders if these results are confirmed, observes Gupta, as reported by HealthDay.

“There are lots of disorders of connectivity, mostly in psychiatry, where this intervention may have a role,” Gupta said. “PTSD, depression, autism: these are all promising areas for light therapy.”