Li-Huei Tsai’s Fight Against Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerFebruary 21, 2018

Last year, an estimated $1.4 billion poured into Alzheimer’s disease research but who is it going to and what are they doing with it? Take a closer look at the life work of one of the leading doctors on the front lines in the fight against Alzheimer’s – Neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai.

Photo: Li-Huei Tsai/Tsai Laboratory

Her work is proving to be a game-changer in the understanding of Alzheimer’s, hopefully leading to a cure or successful treatment of the disease. Learn more about this inspiring scientist, her personal call to Alzheimer’s research, and her work on LED light therapy and the brain.

A Lightbulb Moment for Neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai

Li-Huei Tsai is a 57-year-old neuroscientist who has spent much of her life in search of a cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s. Moved by her grandmother’s diagnosis at a young age, Tsai is a neuroscientist from Taiwan who started her scientific career as an animal veterinarian. It wasn’t until she joined her schoolmates moving to the United States for grad school that she was exposed to laboratory research. There, she partnered with Howard Temin, the late Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher and ultimately quit veterinary medicine for medical research. She went on to earn her PhD in Texas and join the pathology faculty at Harvard Medical School in 1994.

One of her early breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research used light to change brain activity, but her method was incredibly invasive requiring scientists to genetically modify specific neurons. In search of a simpler solution, Tsai and her colleagues found the inspiration they were looking for in a 1989 issue of Nature. The journal had published a study from a team of German scientists who were manipulating brain waves in cats using visual stimulation only. She says, “The concept was so straightforward. The approach is so noninvasive.”

Within months, her team began testing the effects of LED light on the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s. The new study brought together her prior research and the research from the Germans into a comprehensive study on light and the human brain.

Using LED Light in the Fight Against Alzheimer’s

The results of the study were published in Nature December 2017. They found that repeated exposure to pulsating light could reduce the amyloid plaques and tau tangles thought to lead to cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s.

Tsai is continuing to pour time and energy into research around LED light therapy. She hopes to expand her testing from rodents to human subjects.

She says, “Whether it will have an impact or not on people, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.”

What do you think about Dr. Tsai’s research on LED light in the fight against Alzheimer’s? Would you use light therapy against the disease? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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