Clinatec Leverages NIR Light to Slow Down Parkinson’s Disease

Article By : Anne-Françoise Pelé

Clinatec has designed a neuroprotective approach leveraging near-infrared light to reduce or slow down the neurodegenerative process.

Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, but French biomedical research center Clinatec has designed a neuroprotective approach leveraging near-infrared (NIR) light to reduce or slow down the neurodegenerative process. The core of the 10-year research program is the first clinical trial on parkinsonian patients in the first half of 2021.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes dopaminergic neurons to die. More than 10 million people worldwide are currently living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Men are 1.5 time more likely to be affected than women.

No curative treatment exists today. Symptomatic treatments can ease the symptoms, but neither cure nor slow down the progression of the disease. Neuroprotection in Parkinson’s disease has become a key area of research to delay or prevent the death of dopaminergic neurons. “There is a real need for innovative therapies to slow down the neurodegenerative process, and light could be the solution,” said Cécile Moro, Clinatec project manager, CEA-Leti, at last week’s Leti Photonics Workshop.

Is photobiomodulation neuroprotective?

Photobiomodulation is the treatment with light in the far-red to near-infrared region of the spectrum. Photobiomodulation is the main theme of the NIR (Near Infra Red) Project, initiated by Professor Benabid at Clinatec and Professor John Mitrofanis from the University of Sydney, Australia, in 2011.

Preclinical studies demonstrated the neuroprotective potential of NIR light, and the main objective of the NIR project is to illuminate the degenerating brain region in Parkinson’s disease with near-infrared light, via a chronic intracerebral device, in order to slow down the degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons. “Light will activate a specific protein inside the cells, inside the mitochondria, and it will increase the ATP [adenosine triphosphate] production, i.e. the energy molecule of the cell. If cells have more energy, they will better resist various stresses, and we hope it will slow down the neurodegenerative process.”

CEA-Leti ATP Production
Virtues of photobiomodulation: Light activates the enzyme cytochrome c oxidase, increasing ATP production (Image source: CEA-Leti)

During the first phase of the project, from 2011 to 2016, researchers carried out tests on parkinsonian subjects (mice, rats, and monkeys) by inducing them some parkinsonian symptoms, said Moro. In the graph below, the black curve corresponds to animals that did not receive treatment. “They had very high clinical scores, which means high Parkinson’s symptoms.” Conversely, the red curve corresponds to animals that had light into their heads. “They were still Parkinsonians, but with fewer symptoms,” said Moro. These behavioral results were confirmed with histology. “At the end of the experiments, we looked at dopaminergic neurons, and in the animals treated with light, we had much more dopaminergic neurons. This means that the light really protected these animals.”

Neuroprotective effect observed on parkinsonian animal models (Image source: CEA-Leti)
Neuroprotective effect observed on parkinsonian animal models (Image source: CEA-Leti)

These results were confirmed in various models, said Moro, specifying that the research project holds several patents.

During the second phase of the project, from 2016 to 2020, Clinatec researchers conceived, produced, and qualified a medical device that could bring light into patients in order to protect their brain and their dopaminergic neurons. “We did a biological test to ensure that it was safe, that it was efficient, and we qualified it on a technological point of view to ensure it was reliable.” The team then submitted a clinical trial application, which was accepted last year for a first-in-man clinical trial. It will enroll 14 patients.

“We have got a device by itself,” said Moro. “We have got a power supply, which will be implanted, then the optical part will be inserted into the skull and linked to the optical fiber, which will bring the light into the head of the patient.”

NIR device implantation (Image source: CEA-Leti)
NIR device implantation (Image source: CEA-Leti)

Photobiomodulation will be evaluated via the first implantation of a chronic intracranial photobiomodulation device in a Parkinsonian patient in the first half of 2021, said Moro. “We have got the first objective of feasibility to ensure that everything is okay and that it’s safe for the patient. The second objective is to prove the therapeutic potential of photobiomodulation.”

“Photobiomodulation seems to have quite a universal effect,” said Moro. This means it can not only be a solution for Parkinson’s disease, but also a therapeutic path for other neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s diseases.

Clinatec is a biomedical research center focused on applying micro- and nanotechnology innovations to healthcare. Clinatec was initiated in 2006 by Jean Therme, then CEO of CEA-Leti, and Professor Alim Louis Benabid, neurosurgeon who co-invented deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. By bringing medical and electronics research together, they aimed at changing millions of lives.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

Anne-Françoise Pelé is editor-in-chief of and EE Times Europe.

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