Last month, we profiled our client, and physician innovator, Dr. Robert Dotson of LumiThera.
However, we wanted to extend their story to talk about the innovation behind their medical device as well.
The below interview is a follow up to our talk with Dr. Dotson on how he discovered the benefits of light-based therapy and how he adapted the treatment for his patients with eye diseases.
How did you come to recognize the potential of photobiomodulation (PBM) as a therapy for eye disease?
About 15 years ago, I was looking for another revenue stream for my practice when I discovered a new (at the time) light-based therapy that was used, mainly, for anti-aging treatments on the skin.
The device contained LED panels that emitted a gentle flashing, yellow light. Supposedly, a 35-second treatment would help decrease the signs of aging skin and wrinkles.
This technology, and its promise to regenerate cell growth in skin, was the trigger that led me to look into the area of light-based therapy to treat eye disease.
How does light-based therapy for use on the skin, translate to treatment of the eye?
Skin is made up of collagen and eyes are composed of a lot of collagen. This led to my thinking about how the technology could be applied to eye injury, disease and wound repair.
In my investigations, I discovered that the use of low intensity light therapy had been studied scientifically for more than 50 years. I also discovered that it had been used for healing by many cultures over the past five to six thousand years!
After you discovered the benefits of light-based treatment, what were your next steps?
I built a prototype that could be safely used on the eyes, with the goal of treating eye disease and eye injuries.
With the help of a physicist friend, and a review of hundreds of research papers to determine light therapy parameters, I built several small handheld LED-based instruments. I then used these devices to promote healing in my cataract and refractive surgery patients to help reduce pain, discomfort and inflammation and speed the healing process.
I also discovered several off-the-shelf devices that could be adapted for eye therapy.
How did the current technology and products at the time inform the design and innovation behind the first LumiThera product?
We came up with the design and technology based on two predicate devices – a dermatological one ("Gentlewaves" made by the now defunct LightBioscience) and a handheld device made primarily for musculoskeletal pain relief (Warp-10 made by Quantum Devices). Also, numerous LED-based prototypes were used in small clinical trials within my private practice.
However, none of the commercial devices were used on eyes and weren’t created for eye safety, so we couldn’t really use these products to test our theories.
Using these devices as inspiration, we built our device to resemble an auto refractor, or similar testing instrument that you find in most ophthalmology offices. It was recognizable and would fit within the existing environment of these spaces.
The biggest design need was for it to be eye safe and easily operated so that a technician could deliver the treatment without impacting the physician’s already limited time.
What is the truly innovative feature in your device that you bring to the treatment of eye disease?
We started with several predicate devices and determined that using multiple wavelengths had significant advantage over single wavelength devices.
We use three different wavelengths in our present device, each to affect a different part of the cell it targets, and these wavelengths work synergistically. This approach has proven effective with our early and on-going clinical trials.
Why do you think light therapy is a better treatment option than pharmaceutical-based treatment?
Unlike pharmaceuticals, PBM stimulates the body to heal itself by energizing the existing mechanisms within living cells.
What has been largely ignored by drug companies up to this point is that cells have an immense capability to heal themselves. With the photons in light-therapy devices, you can actually kick start the body to regenerate and revitalize its cells which then allows them to renew themselves.
It is energy-based medicine versus pharmaceutical-based medicine with its many issues of cost and toxicity.
How exactly does PBM promote healing?
We believe that PBM may be a tool to promote healing in many eye conditions. Age-related macular degeneration has become the world's leading cause of blindness. Glaucoma is currently the second leading cause of blindness globally, and it’s growing. Cataract formation remains at the top of the list of vision-threatening problems. We believe that PBM can be successfully applied to all of these conditions to slow normal aging changes and, in some cases, reverse some of the anatomical changes that accompany disease and injury
At this time, our device is designed to energize the cells in the retina to heal themselves (every cell has that capability). The thing that kills us, is that our body’s energy factories, the mitochondria, run down as we age (due to nutritional deficiencies, inflammation, hypoxia, etc.) so if there is a way to revitalize those cells, then we can postpone or prevent symptoms of disease from getting the best of us. There is no drug that can do that right now.
Given all that you’ve had to go through, how do you feel about the progress that LumiThera has made?
We’ve made amazing progress in four years – from an idea on paper to a commercially viable device.
The progress we’ve made, in the amount of time and with a relatively small amount of money, speaks volumes about the underlying concept and the team we’ve put together.
We’re just now finally at the point where some of the industry big hitters and key opinion leaders are beginning to side with us and promote the work we’ve done. We recently published our latest clinical data in Acta Oftamologica, a respected mainstream ophthalmology journal.