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LED tech helps ease chemo's side effects (photos)

Originally developed in the early 1990s to promote plant growth onboard space shuttles, new LED technology is helping to soothe the painful side effects from chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

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James Martin
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1 of 5 NASA/David Higginbotham

Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Unit

An LED technology funded originally by NASA for growing plants aboard the International Space Station is making its way into the medical world.

The HEALS technology is being used to help soothe the painful side effects from chemotherapy and radiation treatment in patients with bone marrow and stem cell transplants. HEALS stands for High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate.

The LED technology provides an intense light energy that's equivalent to 12 suns from each of its 288 LED (light-emitting diode) chips.

In the Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, nurse Mitzi Macke (far left) demonstrates use of the WARP 75 device to treat oral mucositis, a painful side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

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2 of 5 NASA/David Higginbotham

Astroculture 3

Astroculture 3 is a plant growth chamber that was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in which Quantum partnered with the NASA-sponsored Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics. Taking advantage of near-infrared HEALS technology, it was used in the 1990s for plant growth experiments onboard shuttle missions.

Since then Quantum has worked further to develop HEALS technology for use in the medical field to heal wounds, treat tumors, and combat oral mucositis.
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3 of 5 NASA/David Higginbotham

Array of LED chips

During a clinical trial, the small 3.5- by 4.5-inch array of 288 LED chips--each the size of a grain of salt--was placed on the outside of a patient's cheek for 88 seconds a day over 14 days at the start of each patient's bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
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4 of 5 NASA/David Higginbotham

Dr. Donna Salzman

Dr. Donna Salzman describes the results of the two-year clinical trial using the HEALS technology, which concluded that there was a 96 percent chance that the improvement in pain relief of patients in the high-risk group was due to the HEALS treatment. Salzman is the director of clinical services and education at the Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.
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5 of 5 NASA/David Higginbotham

NASA spinoffs

Clinical trials were funded by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., which works to spin off space technology and adapt it to new, innovative products and applications.

Other notable NASA spinoffs that have made their way into the civilian world include bar codes, fire-fighting equipment, shock-absorbing helmets, edible toothpaste, joysticks, and ski boots.

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