Flinders Caring Futures Institute researcher and Lecturer in Clinical Exercise Physiology Dr Joyce Ramos is leading a world-first, randomised control clinical trial to assess the benefits of red light therapy on people living with Parkinson’s disease.
The study aims to determine whether the non-invasive technology can improve motor and non-motor symptoms including challenges such as fatigue, depression, postural instability, immobility, and sleep disorder – common complaints of people with the progressive, degenerative disease which affects around 100,000 Australians.
In conjunction with Parkinson’s SA and bolstered by $100,000 funding from The Hospital Research Foundation Group, the project leads on from an earlier proof of concept study which showed promising results.
“It seems like red light therapy, or photobiomodulation, could also have an impact on their cognitive function, fine motor skills and functional capacity,” Dr Ramos says.
Worn on the head for periods of up to 24 minutes, the light device is used in conjunction with a hand-held device applied to the abdominal area and neck to target the gut-brain axis, which has been proposed to play a role in the underlying pathological mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease. Med-tech company Symbyx will supply the devices, with other members of the research team based in Canada.
No adverse side effects or safety concerns were reported from the proof of concept study.
“We’ve interviewed a participant from the previous trial and their response was positive regarding the intervention. It seems like Parkinson’s sufferers really want to try something new that could improve their symptoms.”
In the latest trial, participants will be recruited to take part in one of three groups over an eight-week supervised period – some will receive the photobiomodulation, others who receive a combination of photobiomodulation and exercise and a control group will receive a sham device. The trial will take place under the supervision of trained allied health professionals.
“The reason why we have a combined exercise and photobiomodulation group is because we know that exercise works and improves motor and non-motor symptoms in these individuals, but not everyone can initially engage in an exercise volume that meets the current guideline for good health.”
Dr Ramos says the addition of photobiomodulation may act as an ‘exercise mimetic’, or something that can mimic the impact of exercise to improve symptoms and overall health in people with Parkinson’s.
Individuals will be able to keep their devices and maintain the interventions for another 24 weeks in the comfort of their own home after the 8-week supervised trial is complete, so the research team can ascertain whether it is safe for them to do so.
“Before we go on to a multi-centre approach to a clinical trial, we want to know whether it is safe because the original study was only conducted over a short term,” Dr Ramos adds.
Researchers will be measuring the outcomes of the trial with a questionnaire called the non-motor symptom scale. They will also be measuring disease progression, quality of life, auditory processing, cognitive function, autonomic function and mobility and balance in the participants.
The team will conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis as part of the trial, which could see providers under the NDIS embrace the technology in the future.
Above all, Dr Ramos says the trial aims to improve people’s lives for the better.
“It’s really about getting them functioning, helping them get more physically active and reducing their sedentary behaviour – and that comes with improving their non-motor symptoms.
“If we improve their non-motor symptoms they can be more active and engage with their family and community, and therefore enhance their mental health.”
Dr Ramos is joined by Senior Lecturer and fellow Flinders academic Dr Ranjay Chakraborty on the trial. Executive Director of Parkinsons SA & NT Olivia Nassaris is also a key part of the research team.