NASA Research Illuminates Medical Uses of Light

NASA Research Illuminates Medical Uses of Light

Experimentation has helped decode and legitimize the medical benefits of long-running but often misunderstood treatment with light.

Light can help a wound get better healed? Reduce the pain? Reduce the loss of vision?

Multi Radiance Medical’s line of light-therapy devices, combining LED and super-pulsed laser light, includes products specially designed for use on animals.

While decades of research have shown that it is possible – with the extensive research that was that was funded by NASA but the evidence mounting hasn’t always received the attention expected from such a dramatic discovery.

It could be due to the scientific basis for it isn’t fully comprehended. For instance, despite the fact that a Danish doctor won a Nobel Prize in 1903 for finding that exposure to concentrated red light could speed up the healing of sores the doctor was hesitant to implement it without knowing the reason for its effectiveness.

Another obstacle to acceptance could be that it is simply awe-inspiring.

In a 1989 study on the health benefits of laser light with low power biophysicist Tiina Karu observed that the procedure appeared “highly incredible and even mysterious.” In addition it was noted that its effectiveness against a variety of diseases only added to the doubts, as it gave an appearance as if it were a snake-oil miracle cure.

Karu believed that the red light treatment could be beneficial to many ailments because it enhanced cell function overall by stimulating mitochondria that regulate metabolic processes in animals. This could boost cell production and alleviate oxidative stress which is a cause of inflammation and signs of aging. It also can cause cancer, diabetes neurodegenerative diseases, as well as various other ailments.

It is believed that the infrared and red wavelengths get taken up by the cytochrome C the oxidase enzyme, which is a crucial enzyme involved in metabolism in cells and possibly by other light-sensitive chemical compounds, triggering an array of reactions in the cell.

Karu and other researchers began to think they might have a problem “uniform” laser light probably did not have the necessary effects however it was NASA who finally answered that question when the space agency came across it by accident.

LEDs for Plants, Then People

In the mid-80s In the 1980s, the engineer Ron Ignatius worked at a firm that was a partner with WCSAR. Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR), which was sponsored through NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. As light emitting diode (LED) technology was introduced to the market for commercial use, Ignatius worked with WCSAR to research this new light source for the cultivation of crops in space. The year 1989 was the time Ignatius created Quantum Devices Inc. The company was founded in 1989, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from NASA allowed the company to build an LED plant growth device that produced potatoes on the spaceship in 1995.

However, the study had an unintended consequence. The LEDs were blue and red as they’re the most effective wavelengths of light for driving photosynthesis. NASA researchers who spent time working in their hands with the lights noticed that the abrasions on their hands appeared to heal more quickly than usual.

This is the reason NASA came across the field that is medical laser therapy. NASA was able to see a solution to a long-standing issue that space travelers face: with no gravity astronauts’ bones and muscles lose strength, and any injuries heal slow, which can be dangerous for missions.

Ignatius also began to be fascinated by the medical potential of LEDs. When he discovered about Harry Whelan, a neurologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, was studying medical applications of light, he contacted him.

From 1995 to 2003 the 8 NASA SBIR agreements, with the majority from Marshall and Marshall, supported research on LEDs for medical purposes, conducted by Quantum Devices, the Medical College of Wisconsin as well as some other institutions.

Near-infrared light has been proven to speed the healing of wounds, particularly ones that are starved of oxygen – by increasing the production of growth factor collagen, proteins, as well as blood vessels. However, lasers have their limitations as well, according to Helen Stinson, who oversaw the project in the role of a chief engineer at Marshall’s Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department. “With lasers, you’ve got to be careful not to damage surrounding tissue, and they also use a lot of energy and they’re expensive,” explained Stinson.

In addition to addressing these issues LED arrays are also constructed to emit different wavelengths and be more extensive than lasers.

Light Treatments Prove Themselves

Through experiments, the researchers demonstrated that high-intensity, near-infrared and red LEDs increased the healing rate of oxygen-deficient wounds in rats. Additionally, they stimulated the growth and expansion of bone, skin, and muscle cell lines from rats and mice. The team also provided LED devices for U.S. Navy crews for treatment of injuries sustained during training. The devices resulted in a 40% greater improvement in musculoskeletal injuries as well as an increase of 50 percent in healing for lacerations when compared with control groups.

In the same year, Whelan and colleagues showed that the irradiation of Quantum Devices‘ red LED arrays stopped methanol from causing blindness in rats, causing them to recommend the use of light therapy as a method for retinal disorders ranging that range from glaucoma to macular degeneration.

In addition to the military’s funding, Quantum Devices advanced this technology into their portable WARP 10 – which stands for Warfighter Accelerated Recovery through Photo bio modulation to treat inflammation, pain and minor injuries for military personnel. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of this device for temporary relief of minor joint arthritis pain and muscle spasms. The company launched the device and followed in 2007 with a larger and more sophisticated WARP 75.

Quantum Devices’ partnership with NASA and the Medical College of Wisconsin, as well as Alabama’s University of Alabama at Birmingham was crowned with an experimental clinical trial using WARP 75 to combat acute sores which form within the mucus membranes of patients in response to powerful doses radiation and chemotherapy to will prepare them for bone transplants of the marrow.

An Industry Emerges

After two years of Ignatius died in the year the year 2011 Quantum Devices left the field of medical LEDs. NASA did not decide to use the technology for space applications. In the meantime the research funded by NASA was generating an increasing number of businesses that commercialize the technique.

There are many different devices available however, are the same as claimed Robin Schumacher, who handled marketing for Quantum Devices during the WARP times. “The WARP is still leaps and bounds better technology than 99% of what’s on the market today,” said Schumacher noting that the WARP utilized modern technology to create high-quality, evenly distributed irradiance at specific wavelengths and without risk of temperatures.

The NASA-funded research not only boosted scientists’ knowledge of various wavelengths’ capacity to penetrate the body and trigger cells’ responses, but also the first experiments in optimizing doses by using different intensities and treatment time, added Schumacher.

Devices that don’t have this understanding “are just light bulbs,” she claimed.

Following Ignatius the death of Ignatius, Schumacher started working at Multi Radiance Medical Inc. located in Solon, Ohio, which manufactures light-therapy equipment for sports therapy, physical therapy medicine, veterinary applications and many more. Multi Radiance Medical was founded in the year 2006 and taken many of the discoveries from NASA and its partners.

Multi Radiance devices combine super-pulsed LED and super-pulsed laser as per Doug Johnson, the company’s vice president of scientific and clinical affairs. He explained that the rapid laser pulses cause an acoustic response on tissues which increases the penetration of LED light.

Before the involvement of NASA the devices for light therapy were laser-based and made the devices unsuitable for home use Johnson said Johnson. “So they were only accessible in clinics. NASA created it to be simple and accessible, easy to use, and secure.”

Smaller Devices, Bigger Reach

Multi Radiance started out making large stationary devices for clinics. However, since the company began to follow the WARP practice with handheld cordless devices and could move into the domestic market as well as applications for veterinary use. “If you’re treating a horse in a barn, you can’t have cords and plug in a console,” Johnson explained. Certain of the products from the company’s veterinarians also utilize blue light to treat infections and other antibacterial products which the FDA hasn’t yet approved for usage on humans.

The company’s operations are equally split between home units and stationary units used by doctors, athletic trainers physical therapists, physicians as well as chiropractors. The products vary in coverage size, power level, and wavelength as well as some include magnetic fields or electrical stimulation to enhance the absorption of light. The applications for humans are mostly for relief from inflammation, pain and stiffness.

Multi Radiance now has almost 50 employees and sells thousands of products each year across 32 countries, stated Johnson.

He said he was grateful to NASA for increasing the popularity of the field after making a bet on the possibility of a treatment for impaired growth and atrophy within space. It wasn’t until NASA took a hard look and said it might work that you started seeing commercial development, Johnson declared. They went after something no one could treat and found something so simple and easy it’s incredible.

Presently, Multi Radiance is expanding its consumer range, including the development of a second-generation home device for 2022 release.

As the science gets more well-understood, Johnson said, the company is also hoping to develop specific medical applications. For instance, Multi Radiance has patented an eyepiece with LED arrays for treating conditions like diabetic macular edema and also an instrument to reduce symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Both are currently in clinical tests.

But even as the biological effects of light become clearer, Johnson declared, it’s hard to say the mechanisms in play. Light is a force that operates in a variety of ways it’s difficult to determine the primary mechanism behind it however we’re getting closer.

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