Results of a two-year clinical trial indicate that 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 the trial, cancer patients undergoing bone marrow or stem cell transplants were given a far red/near infrared Light Emitting Diode 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. The trial concluded that there is a 96 percent chance that the improvement in pain of those in the high-risk patient group was the result of the HEALS treatment.

Fig. 2 – A nurse in the Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital demonstrates use of a WARP 75 device. The device was used for light therapy treatment on cancer patients during a two-year clinical trial funded by NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. (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. It can also serve as 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, added Salzman.

How it Works

LEDs are light sources releasing energy in the form of photons. They 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 techno logy for medical uses to improve healing in space and for long-term human spaceflight.

Ron Ignatius, founder and chairman of Quantum Devices Inc. (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. It is one of many devices using HEALS technology, developed in collaboration with NASA.

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.

The clinical trial — funded by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL — included 20 cancer patients from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and 60 cancer patients from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the Children's Hospital of Alabama. The trial was the brainchild of Brian Hodgson, DDS, a pediatric dentist at Marquette University and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Harry T. Whelan, Bleser Professor of Neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, served as the clinical trial principal investigator at Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

Patients participated in the multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled research study — a way of testing a medical therapy where some groups receive treatment and others receive a placebo treatment. Participants were randomly placed in one of four study groups: low- and high-risk patients receiving the experimental light therapy through the WARP 75 device, and other low- and high-risk patients receiving light through a similar device without therapeutic effects. The low-risk patients were those whose chemotherapy and radiation treatment tended to cause mild or no mucositis and the high-risk patients were those whose therapy treatment tended to cause severe cases of mucositis.

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. During that time, trained clinicians assessed the patient’s mouth and patients completed a simple form to indicate their level of pain.

Where it Stands

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.

The WARP 75 device is currently undergoing FDA pre-market approval. Physicians can currently use the device with “off label” privileges. The FDA has cleared the device for use for the treatment of chronic pain by emitting energy in the near-infrared (near-IR) spectrum. This includes: the temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain, arthritis and muscle spasms; and relieving stiffness, promoting relaxation of muscle tissue and to temporarily increase local blood circulation, where applied.

More Information

For more information about the WARP 75 device, visit .