Assistant Professor Lindy Fitzgerald, a cell biologist who works in UWA’s School of Animal Biology, said the device worked by emitting red light of a particular wavelength, which acted on proteins in cells of damaged nerves.
“It improves the actions of the proteins, helping the cells make more energy,” Professor 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 Professors Sarah Dunlop and Alan Harvey, Professor Fitzgerald has just been awarded funds by the Neurotrauma Research Program of WA (a State Government initiative) to continue research in this area.
“If we can show that there are long-term benefits of treatment in animal models and then if 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, where speed is often of the essence,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
She said the device had already been approved for use by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and did not cause damage.
“It is an LED (light emitting diode) rather than a laser so there are no problems with too much heat,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
Professor Fitzgerald is lead author of the study, which was published in the US Journal of Neurotrauma.