PhotoThera, a company out of Carlsbad, California, is currently conducting clinical trials of their experimental laser system for the treatment of strokes. Using a near-infrared laser that is capable of reaching the brain through the scalp, it is thought that the light can help reinvigorate cells in the ischemic milieu.
To prevent Quire’s [Linda Quire, stroke patient at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison –ed.] penumbra from going over to the dark side, two things had to occur.
First, the laser treatment would have to work. Although animal studies and limited human research suggest it might be effective, the treatment still is in the experimental stage and its value has yet to be proved.
Second, Quire would have to get the actual laser treatment. Under the protocol of the clinical trial, half the patients get the treatment and half get a sham treatment. Neither the doctor nor the patients know who is getting treated.
Essentially, Quire had a 50-50 chance of receiving an iffy treatment.
Still, there is reason to believe the laser treatment, which can be given up to 24 hours after the onset of symptoms, might be beneficial.
An earlier trial involving 120 patients found that 70% who got the laser treatment had a successful outcome, such as complete recovery from their stroke, compared with 51% for those who got a sham treatment.
“The prospects are very good,” said Harry Whelan, a neurologist who practices at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Froedtert Hospital.
Whelan, who has done extensive research on so-called photo therapy, said that when infrared laser light reaches brain cells, it improves energy metabolism in those cells, which can be starved of glucose and other energy sources when the blood supply is inhibited. The laser light activates an enzyme that controls production of an energy source known as ATP.
“There is a large area (of brain cells) fighting for survival,” said Whelan, a professor of neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin who was not a part of the study.
Indeed, using laser light might be beneficial in other neurological disorders, said Whelan, who is researching whether it might help in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and diabetic retinopathy.