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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 11:06 GMT
Alzheimer's helmet therapy hope
Infra-red helmet
Trial participants will wear the helmet for 10 minutes a day
An experimental helmet is being tested by scientists as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

It delivers low levels of infra-red light, which researchers at the University of Sunderland, believe may stimulate the growth of brain cells.

Tests in mice showed it improved learning ability and a study in humans is due to begin in the summer.

Current treatments for Alzheimer's delay progression of the disease but cannot reverse memory loss.

The infra-red therapy was first developed to treat cold sores.

We look forward to further research to determine whether it could help improve cognition in humans
Alzheimer's Society

But when researchers studied how it worked, they found it stimulated growth of cells and may have applications in other conditions.

Daily therapy

In tests in people with dementia using infra-red lasers, eight out of nine people showed some improvement, said Dr Gordon Dougal, a GP and director of Virulite, a medical research company based in County Durham.

However, in order to safely deliver the treatment through the scalp, he developed a helmet which bathes the brain in low levels of infra-red light and would only need to be worn for 10 minutes a day.

Trials of around a 100 people with age-related memory problems will now look to see if the beneficial results seen in mice can be replicated in humans.

Dr Dougal said as cells age they lose the ability to repair and regenerate themselves, which in the brain leads to loss of memory.

"Currently all you can do with dementia is to slow down the rate of decay - this new process will not only stop that rate of decay but partially reverse it," he added.

The Alzheimer's Society said it was a potentially interesting technique.

"A treatment that reverses the effects of dementia rather than just temporarily halting its symptoms could change the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who live with this devastating condition.

"We look forward to further research to determine whether it could help improve cognition in humans.

"Only then can we begin to investigate whether near infra-red could benefit people with dementia."

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