NASA Space Technology Shines Light on Healing
Release: 00-336 For Release December 18, 2000
at the Medical College of Wisconsin in
are examining how this special lighting technology helps hard-to-heal wounds,
such as diabetic skin ulcers, serious burns, and severe oral sores caused by
chemotherapy Food and Drug Administration and funded by a NASA Small Business
Innovation Research contract through the Technology Transfer Department at
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in
“So far, what we’ve seen in patients and what we’ve seen in laboratory cell cultures, all point to one conclusion;” said Dr. Harry Whelan, professor of pediatric neurology and director of hyperbaric medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “The near-infrared light emitted by these LEDs seems to be perfect for increasing energy inside cells. This means whether you’re on Earth in a hospital, working in a submarine under the sea or on your way to Mars inside a spaceship, the LEDs boost energy to the cells and accelerate healing.”
Dr. Whelan’s findings will be summarized in upcoming issues of Space Technology and Applications International Forum 2001 and in The Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine and Surgery. Other related peer-reviewed journals have published articles on Whelan’s medical research with light emitting diodes.
Dr. Whelan’s NASA-funded research has already seen remarkable results using the light emitting diodes to promote healing of painful mouth ulcers caused by cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy. The treatment is quick and painless.
The wound-healing device is a small, 3.5-inch by 4.5-inch (89-millimeter by 114-millimeter), portable flat array of LEDs, arranged in rows on the top of a small box. A nurse practitioner places the box of LEDs on the outside of the patient’s cheek about one minute each day. The red light penetrates to the inside of the mouth, where it seems to promote wound healing and prevent further sores in the patient’s mouth.
children who probably would have had to be fed intravenously because of he
severe sores in their mouths have been able to eat solid food,” said Dr. David
Margolis, and oncologist at Children’s
Dr. Whelan’s collaboration with NASA began when Ronald Ignatius, owner of Quantum Devices Inc. in Barneveld, WI, learned about Dr. Whelan’s brain cancer surgery technique using drugs stimulated by laser lights. Laser-light surgical probes are costly and cumbersome in the operating room because they are heavy, with refrigerator-size optical, electrical and cooling systems.
originally designed the lights for plant growth experiments through the
“The LEDs needed to grow plants in space produced the same wavelengths of light the doctor needed to remove brain tumors,” said Ignatius. “Plus, when we developed the LEDs for NASA, they had to be lightweight to fly aboard the shuttle and have small cooling systems. These traits make the LED surgery probes easier to use in the operating room and thousands of dollars cheaper than laser systems.”
Quantum Devices altered the surgical probe to emit longer wavelengths of red light that stimulate a photodynamic drug called Benzoporphyrin Derivativea. Doctors at the improved prove and medicine. The drug also has fewer sided effects after surgery. The ongoing bargain surgery study is a 1999 peer-reviewed journal article in Pediatric Neurosurgery.
“At NASA, we work with companies like Quantum, Devices to take technologies developed for use in space and bring the benefits back home to Earth,” said Helen Stinson of Marshall’s Technology Transfer Department. “NASA is proud to support a program that helps children with brain cancer – and promises to help even greater numbers of people with technology to accelerate the healing process.”
In the laboratory, Whelan and his team have shown that skin and muscle cells grown in cultures and exposed to the ‘LED infrared light grow 150 to 200 percent faster than ground control cultures not stimulated by the light. Scientists are trying to learn how cells convert light into energy, and identify which wavelengths of light are most effective at stimulating growth in different kinds of cells.
expand the wound healing study, Whelan – a commander and diving medical officer
in the U. S. Navy reserve assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command (Naval
Special Warfare Group TWO) – is working with doctors at Navy Special Warfare
Command centers in
A wound-healing device was placed on the USS Salt Lake City submarine, and doctors reported 50 percent faster healing of crew member’s lacerations when exposed to the LED light. Injuries treated with the LEDs healed in seven days, while untreated injuries took 14 days.
The LED research project will continue for the next 18 months, with doctors studying 100 patients at two major teaching affiliates of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Researcher will continue to examine the influence of LEDs on cells grown in the laboratory, and will explore the benefits that LEDs might provide to counteract possible cell damage caused by exposure to harmful radiation and weightlessness during long space missions.
Contact: Jerry Berg, Media Relations Department (256) 544-0034