Lighting heads toward a health medium (MAGAZINE)

As optometrist Dr. Stephen Mason has observed in his work, the SSL industry is at a crossroads of technology and therapy, and successful application requires a holistic knowledge of health and legal implications as well as determination to achieve full commercial acceptance.

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From time immemorial, humans have suffered from disease processes that respond to radiation. Examples include Raynaud’s disease, which affects circulation to small blood vessels, and even the beginnings of frostbite, when we feel ischemic pain in our fingers and toes — both of which can be relieved by infrared (IR) radiation.

Science is turning LED lighting into a therapeutic medium. It can be deployed to kill germs (UV-C), aid in the healing of soft tissue (IR), and treat superficial skin disease (intense pulsed light or IPL therapy, 590 nm to near-IR). It can also help solve the global dilemma of the epidemic in myopia, as discussed in the March issue of LEDs Magazine. Prior to about ten years ago, the research was equivocal until the central role of appropriate exposure to sunlight was found to be the most potent prevention. In brief, without intervention, myopia (also known as nearsightedness) will claim 50% of the world’s population by 2050.

The March feature article provides extensive background and the current understanding on how light can be beneficial to healthy eye development. Research ultimately revealed to us the mechanisms responsible and by which the eye’s exposure to sunlight prevents myopia.

This type of research does not come without risk and cost. However, with knowledge comes power to positively affect change. LED lighting is an excellent platform to integrate this knowledge (of sunlight, in this case) with a solution that not only illuminates the indoor environment but also benefits eye health.

In a much more general sense, the LED lighting industry plays a central and vital role in contributing to the maintenance of public health just as it does now in the agricultural sector, by supporting industry to feed an ever-growing world population with more efficient methods. From influencing circadian rhythms to impacting mood or behavior, protecting us from pathogens, and more, the human-centric lighting sector offers the LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) industry an extraordinary lease on growth, now and in the foreseeable future.

Our manufacturers and our intellectual property (IP) developers need to lead from the front in supporting the research and development (R&D) process of new human-health-oriented LED lighting products that have therapeutic benefits. This requires investment by way of R&D funding, both private and public, as well as education — sharing our findings and establishing how to implement them safely and appropriately. This will incur some risk, as many companies in the medical and therapeutic goods sector would be well aware. But to thrive, it takes investment into R&D and the manufacturing side must stay on the leading edge. This will ultimately feed an expanding sector in LED lighting that evolves the SSL industry past being essential to illuminate the built environment to becoming vital in supporting the health of a species that has become (and will increasingly become) one that works and lives more indoors than outdoors.

Indeed, some respected commentators have made the point that as an industry, it is important and safer from a public health perspective that we move ahead with new therapeutic lighting products rather than sitting on our collective hands waiting for more evidence (i.e., “Given what we know, it is safer to act than not act.” See a blog from LEDs Magazine that covers such viewpoints on the state of lighting for health and wellbeing in the market at http://bit.ly/2Fx02KA.)

As consumers are becoming better educated, the challenge for manufacturers and distributors is whether to survive or thrive in this paradigm. To thrive will require some vision, and perhaps a little courage, to develop and provide light in its most beneficial form to support the health of humankind.

DR. STEPHEN MASON is an optometrist having earned a bachelor of optometry and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry (FAAO). He is also founder and managing director of Sustainable Eye Health Pty Ltd., based in Australia, and has presented at LEDs Magazine’s Lighting for Health and Wellbeing Conference.

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