NASA and Red Light Therapy

September 14, 2022 Celluma LED light therapy device

Red and near infrared light therapy has become much more common place as devices and treatment options have evolved.

Originally developed by NASA for astronauts who could become injured or ill on long-term space missions, light emitting diode (or LED) therapy is used today as a safe and natural method of treatment for a variety of skin and pain conditions including acne, wrinkles, aging skin, chronic pain, wound healing and even hair restoration.

As early as December 2000, NASA issued a press release discussing the “healing power of light.” The release went on to state, “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.”

 Giving Cells the Energy They Need

“Doctors 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 and radiation. Dr. Harry Whelan, professor of pediatric neurology and director of hyperbaric medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said, “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 collaboration with NASA began when Ronald Ignatius, owner of Quantum Devices Inc. in Barneveld, Wis., learned about Dr. Whelan’s brain cancer surgery technique using drugs stimulated by laser lights. Ignatius originally designed the lights for plant growth experiments through the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics.”

“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.

“In the laboratory, Whelan and his team have shown that skin and muscles cells grown in cultures and exposed to the LED infrared light grow 150 to 200 percent faster than ground control cultures not stimulated by 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.”

What the Research Says

There are some very interesting studies conducted by NASA and others examining the use of LED red light therapy for wound healing as well as the treatment of various skin and pain conditions. One example is, “The NASA Light-Emitting Diode Medical Program—Progress in Space Flight and Terrestrial Applications.” Spear-headed by Dr. Whelan, among others.

Wound Healing Treatment Option

 This study, in particular, noted the “LED Enhancement of Cell Growth,” and how this impacts wound healing. The study notes that, “The application of light therapy with the use of NASA LED’s will significantly improve the medical care that is available to astronauts on long-term space missions.”

“NASA LED’s stimulate the basic energy processes in the mitochondria (energy compartments) of each cell, particularly when near-infrared light is used to activate the color sensitive chemicals (chromophores, cytochrome systems) inside. Optimal LED wavelengths include 680, 730 and 880 nm. The depth of near-infrared light penetration into human tissue has been measured spectroscopically (Chance, et al 1988).”

Red Light Therapy for Cell Growth

“Spectra taken from the wrist flexor muscles in the forearm and muscles in the calf of the leg demonstrate that most of the light photons at wavelengths between 630-800 nm travel 23 cm through the surface tissue and muscle between input and exit at the photon detector.”

“Our laboratory has improved the healing of wounds in laboratory animals by using NASA LED light and hyperbaric oxygen. Furthermore, DNA synthesis in fibroblasts and muscle cells has been quintupled using NASA LED light alone, in a single application combining 680, 730, and 880 nm each at 4 Joules per centimeter squared.”

Effective Injury Treatment

“Muscle and bone atrophy are well documented in astronauts, and various minor injuries occurring in space have been reported not to heal until landing on Earth. Long term space flight, with its many inherent risks, also raises the possibility of astronauts being injured performing their required tasks.”

“The fact that the normal healing process is negatively affected by microgravity requires novel approaches to improve wound healing and tissue growth in space. NASA LED arrays have already flown on Space Shuttle missions for studies of plant growth.”

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved human trials. The use of light therapy with LED’s is an approach to help increase the rate of wound healing in the microgravity environment, reducing the risk of treatable injuries becoming mission catastrophes.”

Healing Quickly = Less Pain

“Wounds heal less effectively in space than here on Earth. Improved wound healing may have multiple applications which benefit civilian medical care, military situations and long-term space flight. Laser light and hyperbaric oxygen have been widely acclaimed to speed wound healing in ischemic, hypoxic wounds. An excellent review of recent human experience with near-infrared light therapy for wound healing was published by Conlan, et al in 1996. Lasers provide low energy stimulation of tissues which results in increased cellular activity during wound healing (Beauvoit, 1989, 1995; Eggert, 1993; Karu, 1989; Lubart, 1992, 1997; Salansky, 1998; Whelan, 1999; Yu, 1997).”

More Collagen Means Better Skin

“Some of these activities include increased fibroblast proliferation, growth factor syntheses, collagen production and angiogenesis. Lasers, however, have some inherent characteristics, which make their use in a clinical setting problematic, including limitations in wavelengths and beam width. The combined wavelengths of light optimal for wound healing cannot be efficiently produced, and the size of wounds which may be treated by lasers is limited.”

“Light emitting diodes (LED’s) offer an effective alternative to lasers. These diodes can be made to produce multiple wavelengths, and can be arranged in large, flat arrays allowing treatment of large wounds. Our experiments suggest potential for using LED light therapy at 680, 730 and 880 nm simultaneously, alone and in combination with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, both alone and in combination, to accelerate the healing process in Space Station Missions, where prolonged exposure to microgravity may otherwise retard healing.”

“NASA LED’s have proven to stimulate wound healing at near-infrared wavelengths of 680, 730 and 880 nm in laboratory animals, and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human trials.”

More Cellular Energy

“Furthermore, near-infrared LED light has quintupled the growth of fibroblasts and muscle cells in tissue culture. The NASA LED arrays are light enough and mobile enough to have already flown on the Space Shuttle numerous times.”

“LED arrays may prove to be useful for improving wound healing and treating problem wounds, as well as speeding the return of deconditioned personnel to full duty performance. Potential benefits to NASA, military, and civilian populations include treatment of serious burns, crush injuries, non-healing fractures, muscle and bone atrophy, traumatic ischemic wounds, radiation tissue damage, compromised skin grafts, and tissue regeneration.”

And More Good Treatment News

Another study called, “Effect of NASA Light-Emitting Diode Irradiation on Wound Healing” showed even more promise. The study abstract states:

Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) and near-infrared light therapy on wound healing.”

“Background Data: Light-emitting diodes (LED), originally developed for NASA plant growth experiments in space show promise for delivering light deep into tissues of the body to promote wound healing and human tissue growth. In this paper, we review and present our new data of LED treatment on cells grown in culture, on ischemic and diabetic wounds in rat models, and on acute and chronic wounds in humans.”

“Materials and Methods: In vitro and in vivo (animal and human) studies utilized a variety of LED wavelength, power intensity, and energy density parameters to begin to identify conditions for each biological tissue that are optimal for biostimulation.”

“Results: LED produced in vitro increases of cell growth of 140–200% in mouse-derived fibroblasts, rat-derived osteoblasts, and rat-derived skeletal muscle cells, and increases in growth of 155–171% of normal human epithelial cells.”

“Wound size decreased up to 36% in conjunction with HBO in ischemic rat models. LED produced improvement of greater than 40% in musculoskeletal training injuries in Navy SEAL team members, and decreased wound healing time in crew members aboard a U.S. Naval submarine. LED produced a 47% reduction in pain of children suffering from oral mucositis.”

“Conclusion: We believe that the use of NASA LED for light therapy alone, and in conjunction with hyperbaric oxygen, will greatly enhance the natural wound healing process, and more quickly return the patient to a preinjury/ illness level of activity. This work is supported and managed through the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center–SBIR Program.”

Benefits of Celluma LED Red Light Therapy

Celluma LED red light therapy devices have been cleared by the FDA for pain managementskin conditions and hair restoration. Celluma LED red light therapy devices use specific wavelengths of light energy to improve cellular health by accelerating the repair and replenishment of compromised tissue cells for enhanced results.

While similar red light therapy devices on the market claim to accomplish the same thing, they often require multiple machines and accessories to treat specific conditions or accommodate different parts of the body. From compact handhelds to large full-body red light therapy devices, the Celluma SERIES offers convenient and affordable solutions for treating skin concerns as well as muscle, joint and pain issues in a variety of versatile systems.

Click here to see all 14 models in the Celluma SERIES of red light therapy devices.

Matt Kovach