Researchers from the US will be investigating light therapy to treat the painful oral side effects resulting from cancer treatments

University of Buffalo researchers have received part of a $1.5 million grant to investigate light therapy as a replacement for prescription opioids in treating oral mucositis, painful ulcers and swelling in the mouth that result from chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer.

Funded by the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research’s Small Business Innovation Research programme, the grant will help researchers determine the effectiveness of photobiomodulation, a form of low-dose light therapy, in prevention and treatment of oral mucositis after cancer treatment.

The grant was awarded to Cleveland-based MuReva Phototherapy, a spinoff company of lighting solutions manufacturer Lumitex, to further develop the light technology.

The research, led by Praveen Arany, assistant professor at the school of dental medicine, will be performed in collaboration with faculty from the departments of radiation medicine and oral oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

‘The current epidemic of opioids has impacted cancer care, especially for cancer pain relief,’ said Praveen Arany.

‘This treatment offers a simple, non-drug, non-invasive treatment approach to relieve pain and improve quality of life for cancer patients.

‘The striking lab and clinical evidence for photobiomodulation treatments in supportive cancer care has demonstrated tremendous promise and is becoming popular.’

The worst side effect of cancer

Oral mucositis is caused by damage to mucous tissue from chemotherapy or radiation treatment, or stem cell transplant.

The condition occurs in close to 40% of patients receiving chemotherapy and nearly 80% of patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Multiple studies have found that patients report oral mucositis as the worst side effect of their cancer treatment.

Pain from the condition can slow or delay treatment, and in severe cases require hospitalisation and feeding tubes.

Light as a solution

Light therapies have existed for decades, but improvements in the technology have made the treatment more affordable for wider use, says Professor Arany.

At a high power, light, often in the form of a laser, is used in medicine to cut or destroy tissue. But at a low level, it has the ability to relieve pain and promote healing.

The effectiveness of photobiomodulation in treating pain and stimulating healing has been documented in hundreds of clinical trials and thousands of academic papers.

The treatment is used widely across Europe, Canada, Australia and several other nations.

Consensus has not, however, been reached on the proper dosage for the treatment, says Arany.

Using the technology developed by MuReva Phototherapy, UB and Roswell researchers will examine the effectiveness of photobiomodulation treatments for oral mucositis, as well as determine the proper dosage to limit pain and stimulate healing in tissues damaged by cancer treatment.

Vedang Kothari, president and CEO of MuReva Phototherapy commented: ‘We are excited to partner with the University at Buffalo and esteemed clinician and professor Dr Praveen Arany on this cutting-edge research.’