Healing Benefits of LED Technology from NASA

Subject: LEDs Studied for Healing

 Release: 00-197

Date: December, 2000


Michael Braukus

Washington, DC
Phone: 202-358-1979

Jerry Berg

Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville, AL
Phone: 205-544-0034

Toranj A Marphetia

Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, WI
Phone: 414-456-4700



Doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee have discovered the healing power of light with the help of technology developed for NASA’s space shuttle. Using powerful light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, originally designed for commercial plant-growth research in space, scientists have found a way to help patients here on earth.

Doctors are examining how this special lighting technology helps hard-to-heal wounds, such as diabetic skin ulcers, skin ulcers, serious burns, and severe oral sores caused by chemotherapy and radiation. The project, approved by the U.S. 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 Huntsville, AL, includes laboratory and human trials.

“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 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 cheeks 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.

“Some children who probably would have had to be fed intravenously because of the severe sores in their mouths have been able to eat solid foods,” said Dr. David Margolis, as assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and an oncologist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Margolis continued, “Preventing oral mucositis improves the patient’s ability to eat and drink and also may reduce the risk of infections in patients with compromised immune systems.”

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.

Ignatius originally designed the lights for plant growth experiments through the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, a NASA commercial space center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“The LEDs needed to grow plants in space produced the same wave lengths 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 then laser systems.”

Quantum Devices altered the surgical probe to emit longer wavelengths of red light that stimulate a photodynamic drug called Benzoporphyrin Derivative. Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin recently completed the first-ever surgery. The ongoing brain surgery study is described in a 1999 peer-reviewed journal article in Pediatric Neurosurgery.

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. Researchers 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.



A Synopsis of the Therapeutic Effects of Monochromatic Single-Wavelength Red Light

In Europe, during the 1960’s, it was discovered that certain monochromatic single-wavelength light beams had an excellent therapeutic effect on afflicted cell tissue. This occurs through a process called “Photo-Stimulation”. Various single-wavelengths in the red and infrared color spectrums (630 to 950 nanometers) have been used extensively because they fall within the cellular frequency range of biological tissue. However, the most widely used is the 660 nanometer red wavelength, which appears to be the most effective, as it is closer to the actual resonance frequency of the health cell. A single light wave is essential, because the cell tissue will not respond if more than one wavelength is present.

Depending upon whether the light beam is continuous or pulsed (turned on and off very rapidly), the single-wavelength light photo stimulates the afflicted cell tissue differently. “Continuous light” sedates the tissue, resulting in relief of pain, relaxation of tense muscles, and reduced swelling. This is accomplished by an increase in cellular blood flow (which causes a warm feeling deep within the tissue) and by an actual physical tissue relaxation. “Pulsed light” stimulates the DNA within the afflicted cell, causing the cell to produce an increased quantity of protein and calcium, which results in an accelerated healing of the tissue from 3 to 5 times faster than normal.

To reach the problem areas, the light beam can either by applied directly to the skin, where it penetrates about one inch into the soft tissue, or for deeper penetration into the body, it can be applied to the acupuncture points. A single-wavelength light beam will travel through the body’s acupuncture meridian channels like an optical fiber, to reach internal areas within the body. The light also acts as an extremely effective acupuncture-point stimulator device. Therefore, using a combination of both direct application and acupuncture/acupressure-point techniques, any problem within your body may be reached by the light.

There are only two available methods of producing this desired monochromatic single wavelength light beam without introducing other wavelengths or impurities. The first is with a “Laser” and second is with


a “Light-Emitting Diode”, or LED. The choice of material used in the construction of both devices determines which specific wavelength is produced. Both devices produce a monochromatic single-wavelength, but the laser produces coherent light (in phase) while LEDs provide non-coherent light (out of phase). This type of laser uses very low power, compared to the normal high-power lasers used in surgery and advanced technology applications. These are referred to as “soft, cold, or weak lasers”, and they produce only enough light power to stimulate damaged cell tissue.

Soft lasers have been well researched and used over the past 25 years. They are available in many clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices around the world. The most extensively published uses have been for relief of pain, accelerated healing of wounds, treatment of skin conditions, wrinkle removal, and acupuncture-point stimulation. Soft-lasers are not readily available for home use. They are expensive and are approved for use only by licensed physicians, health professionals, and clinical technicians. They can be harmful if over-used or if they come into contact with the eyes. Therefore, individuals must go to a licensed health professional if they desire treatment with a “soft-laser”.

Today, however, thanks to the technological development of LEDs, an individual may take advantage of this phototherapy concept in the home. LEDs have changed from a simple 15 millicandle “indicator-type light”, used in electronic equipment, to the 500-times brighter (8000 millicandle) light now used in medical applications. Photo-stimulation by an LED unit is now 90% as effective as the “soft-laser” unit. This means, for example, that arthritis pain which is relieved by a “soft-laser” in 6 minutes would be relieved by an LED unit in about 7 minutes!

The advantages of using LEDs are tremendous. The cost of LEDs is one-tenth of the cost of “soft-lasers” and their life expectancy is 20 times longer (100,000 hours of use). Better yet, an LED is completely harmless, cannot be over-used, has no side effects and can even be sued on the eyes. Therefore, you can do nothing wrong with it! This allows the LED phototherapy unit to be used on a much wider range of problems then the “soft-laser”. The results show that when using the “photo-stimulation” on afflicted cell tissue, it is the “monochromatic single-wavelength” feature that is more important to cellular response than is the “coherent” (laser) or “non-coherent” (LED) aspect of light.

The following uses represent those problem areas where a significant number of researched techniques, reported testimonies and observed results have been recorded.





Eyes & Ears

Food Allergies



Meridian Balancing

Pain Relief

Reduced Swelling

Sinus Relief

Skin Condition

Teeth & Gums


Accelerated Wound Healing

Acupuncture Point Stimulation

Addictive Habit Reduction:

Tobacco, Food, Drugs, Alcohol

Building Up the Blood

Emotion & Stress

Energy Balancing & Stimulation

Facial Toning (Wrinkle Reduction)

Improved Circulation

Insect Stings & Bites

Reflexology Point Stimulation

Relaxation of Muscle Tension

Sprains & Pulled Muscles

Whiplash & Low Back Pain


The simplest way to use this “photo-stimulation” is to acquire a portable LED phototherapy unit from a manufacturer or distributor. The least expensive type would be battery-operated. It should have a 660 nanometer LED with a brightness of 6,000-8,000 millicandles and both a continuous and pulsed light beam option. The recommendation for the pulse rate is 235-295 cycles per second. The phototherapy unit should also have a money-back period for you to test it. The LEDs have allowed a very important medical technology to now be used by individuals in their own homes, as well as in the offices and clinics of health professionals.

NOTE: This is an expose’ on human use, however this is being used for veterinarian therapies. Many veterinarians and animal owners are reporting similar results.