UJ: Light can heal injuries and stubborn wounds faster

Prof Heidi Abrahamse
Prof Heidi Abrahamse

“People who have diabetes and have lost sensitivity on their feet or hands can really benefit from this treatment. Often, they can’t even feel a shoe rubbing off skin or that they are burning their fingers. They end up with diabetic wounds that just don’t heal, despite treatment with medications,” says Prof Heidi Abrahamse, Director of the Laser Research Centre (LRC) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Prof Abrahamse does early-stage laboratory research on laser techniques which show promise for medical treatments in future.

“We use low-power lasers or light emitting diodes in photobiomodulation. This treatment calms down inflammation, speeds up the formation of new blood vessels and speeds up healing, when applied correctly to wounds and painful areas. Diabetic wounds can heal many weeks faster when photobiomodulation is used in combination with medications. A small number of medical professionals in South Africa are using this treatment already,” she says.

Dr Nicolette Houreld
Dr Nicolette Hourel

This treatment ‘boosts’ the human body to get past a key hurdle to healing, adds Dr Nicolette Houreld, a senior researcher at the LRC.

“For some difficult-to-heal wounds, it is as if that part of the body is ‘stuck’ in the inflammation phase,” she says. “When we use photobiomodulation, the laser light causes the body to produce far fewer anti-inflammatories and to move along the various phases of healing much faster.”

“People who lost sensitivity in their feet and hands due to diabetes got some of that sensitivity back because of photobiomodulation treatment in a small study we did on 10 people. The study’s results show real promise as a future medical treatment, so we’re doing a follow-up study with more people,” says Dr Houreld.

At the end of July, the UJ LRC hosted a workshop to teach students and clinicians the basic physics of light and lasers, as well as the mechanisms, applications and clinical benefits and outcomes of photobiomodulation. International and top national researchers and clinicians shared insights during the day-long event, which was attended by physiotherapists, podiatrists and dermatologists, among others. ​​

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