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Red light therapy: Eyesight can improve after exposure to deep red or near-infrared light

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Exposure to deep red or near-infrared light can improve the function of the eye’s mitochondria, the powerhouses in cells, resulting in slight but lasting improvement to declining eyesight



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24 November 2021

Eyesight naturally fades with age

Eko Agung Wahyudi / EyeEm

An unusual experimental treatment for fading sight involves shining a red light into the eyes for a few minutes to boost the activity of mitochondria, microscopic structures that provide energy inside cells.

In the first small test of the approach in 24 people, one short exposure to the light slightly improved people’s performance in tests of colour vision for several days.

Deep red light and near-infrared light have previously been shown to enhance the function of mitochondria in a range of cell-based and animal experiments. These wavelengths seem to work by improving the performance of key molecular structures within mitochondria, called ATP synthase pumps.

These pumps manufacture a molecule called ATP, which cells use for energy, by rotating within the watery environment of the mitochondria. Deep red light has just the right wavelength, at 670 nanometres, to be absorbed by water molecules, which gives them more energy.

This makes the water surrounding each pump less viscous, letting the structure rotate faster. “It is like heating up jam to make it easier to stir,” says Glen Jeffery at University College London.

Although making cells more energy efficient could affect a wide range of bodily systems, Jeffery’s group has been investigating cells of the retina, a patch of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, as they are packed with more mitochondria than any other cell in the body. Impaired mitochondria may contribute to declining eyesight with age and have been implicated in several causes of blindness.

Previous work in flies suggested that mitochondria make most ATP in the mornings. So Jeffery’s group carried out a trial of red light exposure in people aged 37 to 70, comparing treatment in the morning with that given in the afternoon, as a control group.

The participants had a weak deep red light shone at their eyes for 3 minutes. Three hours later, their colour vision was tested by asking them to try to detect letters shown on a similar-coloured background. The team focused on colour vision because the cells in the retina responsible for black and white vision tend to die with age.

When people received one treatment, between 8am and 9am, their performance on the colour contrast test improved by 12 to 17 per cent, compared with before the treatment. Ten members of the group were also tested one week later and their results were still up to 10 per cent better. But there was no significant change if the treatment was done in the afternoon.

Some individuals said they didn’t notice any improvement in their vision, despite performing better on the test, says Jeffery.

Louise Gow at UK charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People says the findings are exciting, but a bigger study is needed to see if the approach can bring noticeable benefits to people’s vision. “A larger study would establish the evidence for this type of innovative treatment,” she says.

Other groups have found that red light treatment can benefit people with a common cause of blindness called age-related macular degeneration and the worsening eyesight caused by diabetes.

The treatment may help in diverse conditions because boosting mitochondria “turns on all the systems in the cell that make the cell work better”, says Janis Eells at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Eells is working with a firm called LumiThera, which markets a red light device for treating macular degeneration in some countries.

Various groups have also shown that shining deep red or near-infrared light on the head can improve the condition of animals used to model brain injuries and conditions, such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, in lab experiments.

Jeffery’s group has also found that red light irradiation can protect bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides, which damage mitochondria. The group proposes that beekeepers put lamps in their hives.

Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-02311-1

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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