A NASA technology originally developed for plant growth experiments on space shuttle missions has successfully reduced the painful side effects resulting from chemotherapy and radiation treatment in bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients. In a two-year clinical trial, cancer patients undergoing bone marrow or stem cell transplants were given a far-red/near-infrared light emitting diode (LED) treatment called High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate, or HEALS, to treat oral mucositis — a common and extremely painful side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

A nurse demonstrates use of a WARP 75 device. The device uses HEALS LED technology that provides intense light energy. (NASA/Higginbotham)
The HEALS device, known as the WARP 75 light delivery system, can provide a cost-effective therapy since the device itself is less expensive than a day at the hospital and a proactive therapy for symptoms of mucositis that are currently difficult to treat without additional, negative side effects. The device could offer patients several benefits: better nutrition since eating can be difficult with painful mouth and throat sores; less narcotic use to treat mouth and throat pain; and an increase in patient morale — all of which can contribute to shorter hospital stays and less potential for infection.

LEDs release long wavelengths of light that stimulate cells to aid in healing. HEALS technology allows LED chips to function at their maximum irradiancy without emitting heat. NASA is interested in using HEALS technology for medical uses to improve healing in space and for long-term human spaceflight. Ron Ignatius, founder and chairman of Quantum Devices of Barneveld, WI, developed the WARP 75 light delivery system for use in the trial. The device uses the HEALS technology to provide intense light energy: the equivalent light energy of 12 suns from each of the 288 LED chips, each the size of a grain of salt.

In the early 1990s, Quantum teamed with the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics — a NASA-sponsored research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — to develop Astroculture 3, a plant growth chamber using near infrared HEALS technology for plant growth experiments on shuttle missions. Over the years, Quantum has worked to develop HEALS technology for use in medical fields, specifically with pediatric brain tumors and hard-to-heal wounds such as diabetic skin ulcers, serious burns, and oral mucositis.

In the clinical trial, patients received the light therapy by a nurse holding the WARP 75 device — about the size of an adult human hand — in close proximity to the outside of the patient's left and right cheek and neck area for 88 seconds each, daily, for 14 days at the start of the patient's bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/features/heals.html.

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