Laser Beams Save the Brain

7/18/2008 CARLSBAD, Calif. A walk through a butterfly pavilion with his family is a world away from where Marine Tim Shull was just a few years ago.

"I was out on a patrol in Iraq … outside of Fallujah," Tim says.

Although he looks healthy, it's what you can't see that almost took Tim away from his family.

"We happened to go across the road. They had two bombs buried underneath the road," Tim says. "They found me 40 feet away in a ditch."

"He said there was an accident and I just freaked out starting screaming," Tim's wife, Celyne, recalls. "I pretty much take care of him now. I help him shower, I remind him when to go to the bathroom and I remind him when to eat."

Cylene's husband is one of 1,800 U.S. troops who came home from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury.

"The shock wave jarred loose my brain and it bounced around inside my head for a little bit," Tim says.

Dr. Jackson Streeter -- a former navy fighter pilot -- a top gun turned surgeon -- is trying to help fellow veterans like Tim. He created this infrared laser to help save injured brain cells.

"We're trying to protect the neurons that are at risk that are going to die, but are potentially salvageable," says Jackson Streeter, M.D., general practitioner and founder of PhotoThera in Carlsbad, Calif.

A hand-held probe delivers an infrared energy signal into the brain. It stimulates mitochondria, which provide energy to each living cell. The mitochondria in neurons shut down when the brain is injured.

"When that energy transfer takes place, it keeps cells alive inside the brain that might otherwise die," Dr. Streeter says.

The treatment lasts about 40 minutes and gives victims of brain injury and strokes another option. Right now, the only approved drug to help stroke victims must be delivered within three hours of the onset. Studies show this treatment has impacted patients after 24 hours of the start of a stroke.

This treatment could have prevented Tim's short-term memory loss and slurred speech -- and even though he's still recovering, he's grateful to be alive and have time with his family.

"I somehow got very, very lucky," Tim says.

"I love him no matter what," Cylene says.

Infrared laser treatment is in clinical trials across the country right now and is also being studied for the treatment of nerve and spinal cord injuries, as well as Parkinson's. Dr. Streeter hopes to get approval by the FDA next year. So far, 70 percent of stroke patients who received this treatment improved their function, compared to 51 percent of patients who got traditional therapies.


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