The Research

In past posts, my wife Laurie and I have detailed how we “accidentally” found ourselves in a cluttered office on the twelfth floor of the Boston VA hospital. We were in the office of Dr. Margaret Naeser, a research scientist at the VA for the past 36 years, and a faculty member at the Boston University School of Medicine, discussing photobiomodulation (PBM), as a possible treatment for my neuro-cognitive struggles.  She explained her research using PBM on Gulf War Vets with traumatic brain injury and she was interested in trying the same protocol on an ex-football player with possible CTE. To her knowledge it had never been done before.  Neither Laurie nor I had ever heard of PBM, but the leading researcher in the world on CTE, Dr. Ann McKee, had referred us here in response to my desperate plea. We were willing, liked what we learned, and I eventually committed to being part of a research project of one. I tested in to the research (I scored very low on the neuro-cognitive testing, which was both good and bad news) and began the 6-week treatment schedule, traveling to the hospital 3 sessions per week for a 40-minute application of near-infrared light to my head.

During my time at the VA, I interacted with Dr. Naeser and her research team, Paula, who has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Boston University School of Medicine, and Mike, who has a Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing from Purdue University with an undergraduate degree from MIT in Brain and Cognitive Science. They are experienced researchers with a great deal of credibility. Over the course of the 8 months I was in the study, not only did I eventually verify all that Dr. Naeser told Laurie and I in the beginning, but through my own research I found additional benefits of PBM, documented in the literature, that were remarkable. In my search, I also learned first hand that there is a notable lack of treatment alternatives for what is fast becoming a global epidemic of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and brain disease in general.

“Photobiomodulation (PBM) has been shown to stimulate healing, protect tissue from dying, increase mitochondrial function, improve blood flow, and tissue oxygenation. PBM may help reduce swelling, increase antioxidants, decrease inflammation, protect against apoptosis (the death of cells triggered by extracellular signals), and modulate microglial (small cells that have phagocytic or protective actions) activation state.

All these mechanisms of action strongly suggest that PBM delivered to the head is beneficial in cases of both acute and chronic TBI. Many studies in small animal models of acute TBI have found positive effects on neurological function, learning and memory, and reduced inflammation and cell death in the brain. There is evidence that PBM can even help the brain repair itself by stimulating neuron and synaptic regeneration. In healthy human volunteers, PBM has been shown to increase regional cerebral blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and improve memory, mood, and cognitive function. Clinical studies have been conducted in patients suffering from the chronic effects of TBI that showed improvement in executive function, working memory, and sleep. Functional MRI has shown change of activation in brain networks likely to be damaged in TBI, including the default mode network and salience network.” (“Photobiomodulation for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stroke.” MR Hamblin. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 2018).

The benefits of this technology seem to go on and on, and yet so few people have even heard about it. Next post, my results, test by test beginning with the fMRI outcomes.

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