What is PBM? And the Future we should look forward to


Imagine you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 65. What are your options? For current patients, the treatment options are extremely limited. For the 90% of cases with dry AMD, this disease may be treatable with vitamin supplements. These supplements may slow down, but ultimately won’t cure the disease. The other 10% with wet AMD can receive monthly eye injections that help clear up leaky blood vessels, but do not work to halt the progression of the disease.

However, researchers are currently testing photobiomodulation (PBM) as an alternate means of treatment for AMD and many other ailments. PBM is a therapy that uses visible to near infrared wavelengths of light to heal patients at a cellular level. In the case of AMD, PBM has the potential to quickly and painlessly treat more patients.

How does light therapy work? The sun comes up every morning and doesn't appear to wipe away disease from all it touches. We don't reach for the flashlight to treat a skinned knee. Yet scientific products based on PBM therapies continue to enter the market promising to relieve pain or grow hair. How can such an apparently simple treatment work?

If we start with the premise that life evolved in a world driven by daily exposure to sunlight, it's not surprising that cells respond to light. However, I can still imagine the surprise of Endre Mester when, in 1967, the Hungarian godfather of photobiomodulation exposed the shaved skin of mice to red laser light and it resulted in accelerated hair growth, rather than the cancer he had expected to introduce. 

Since those experiments, efforts to understand the mechanisms of PBM have resulted in a better understanding of how photons interact with our cells. Figuring out the dosimetry and dose response can be a complex challenge, and experimenters need to determine the final selection of wavelength, intensity, and duration. However, PBM has been used in tissue repair, inflammation relief, and in treating neurological problems with a significant degree of efficacy. The therapy has had positive results and commercial successes in treating joint pain, hair loss, skin conditions and in various dental applications, including saving dying teeth. Tantalizing results are out there for treating traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and even spinal cord injury. 

The dearth of alternative therapies for these last few conditions guides my philosophy on PBM. If the science supports a benefit, then we must do our best to bring that therapy to market. 

At Product Creation Studio (PCS), we support a number of clients driven by this same perspective. PCS partnered with Biolux Research to help them bring their PBM enabled product, OrthoPulse, into the dental marketplace. OrthoPulse uses light energy to stimulate the bone surrounding tooth roots, increasing the rate of tooth movement and dramatically reducing the amount of time it will take for a person to have braces. Biolux has been rigorous in generating clinical evidence to support its efficacy. PCS designed the OrthoPulse to adhere strictly to FDA standards, and the device was recently cleared by the FDA for sale in the US.

Another PCS partner, LumiThera, is dedicated to the treatment of ocular disease using PBM.  Their team of experts has identified the first opportunity as a clinical therapy for dry AMD and PCS helped them design a device that gained the funding they needed to support clinical trials. Their LT-300 is the first ophthalmic device for treating dry AMD using multiple wavelengths of light. The treatment appears to resolve the pathology of the disease and improves vision by addressing the disease state in the retina.  Along the way, LumiThera is capturing the data they need to optimize the treatment profile. Blinded (no pun intended) clinical studies are currently in the works.

Considering the complexity of dose and response interaction, I am eager to gain better understanding of the mechanisms of action related to PBM. We must make room for a virtuous cycle; more PBM equipment in development leads to more empirical data, which then helps us analyze and isolate treatment factors. PCS is proud to be on the cutting-edge of enabling the development of these impactful, life-enhancing technologies. We will continue to support the research and development of light therapies of all types, and we hope to gain more partners in pioneering a deeper understanding of PBM applications.

Scott Thielman is CTO of Product Creation Studio, a development firm that supports medical device clients. After travelling the road from skeptic to believer in the benefits of PBM, he sees a growing opportunity for the technology. He is excited about exploring the compassionate applications of technology and strategizing on how to bring those products to market. Scott can be reached via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter.