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For release: 11-05-03
Release: 03-199

Light emitting diodes bring relief to young cancer patients; NASA technology used for plant growth now in clinical trials

Photo description: Light emitting diodes can ease pain and promote wound healing in bone marrow transplant patients.

A device using specialized light emitting diodes, based on NASA technology for plant growth in space, is continuing to show promise as a treatment to aid healing of bone marrow transplant patients. Use of the LED apparatus has advanced to the second phase of clinical trials in U.S. and foreign hospitals. Results from the first round of tests were highly encouraging, prompting researchers to expand the trials as they seek approval for the treatment as a standard of care for oral mucositis.

Photo: Light emitting diodes can ease pain and promote wound healing in bone marrow transplant patients. (NASA/MSFC/Barry Himelhoch, Medical Center Graphics Inc.)

“We've already seen how using LEDs can improve a bone marrow transplant patient's quality of life," said Dr. Harry Whelan, professor of neurology, pediatrics and hyperbaric medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "These trials will hopefully help us take the next steps to provide this as a standard of care for this ailment.”

The light is produced by light emitting diodes, or LEDs. They are used in hundreds of applications, from electronic clock displays to jumbo TV screens.

These LEDs provide light for plants grown on the Space Station as part of commercial experiments sponsored by industry under the Space Product Development Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Researchers discovered that the diodes also had many promising medical applications, prompting this research to be funded by a NASA Small Business Innovation Research contract through the Technology Transfer Department at the Marshall Center.

The clinical trials are expected to take approximately three years with a total of 80 patients. Participants currently include the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. and Instituto de Oncologia Pediatrica, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago; University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago; Hospital Sirio Libanes in Sao Paulo Brazil; and Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel have also asked to join the multi-center study.