A history of research into light therapy as a potential treatment for persistent concussion symptoms and possible CTE

This article is a companion to our Light Therapy treatment page, which explains how the LED light therapy devices work, how to access the same devices researchers are using, and the science behind light therapy, or photobiomodulation.

Light therapy is an exciting new area of research as a possible treatment for persistent post-concussion symptoms, also called post-concussion syndrome, or chronic mTBI. Research in 2019 is also showing that light therapy is a potential treatment for patients diagnosed with possible CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) based on their medical history.

Margaret Naeser, PhD, is located at the Boston VA Medical Center, and is a Research Professor of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine. In this interview with Vielight, she discusses her work studying application of transcranial photobiomodulation (tPBM) as a possible treatment modality to improve cognition in individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and in retired professional football players who may be developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

2019 Light therapy a potential treatment for possible CTE, based on the patient’s medical history

At the March 2019 IBIA conference in Toronto, Dr. Margaret Naeser presented two case studies of light therapy having significant positive effects in two retired, professional football players with possible CTE, based on their medical history. Clinical tests confirmed the positive effects of the in-clinic light therapy treatments, and in the case of the one football player who agreed to fMRI scans, the scans confirmed the positive results.

The case studies of the men took different trajectories. After the six weeks of in-clinic treatment, the study called for testing at one week, one month, and two months following the end of light therapy treatment.

For the man in case study #1, he found that his symptoms had returned at full force after two months without light therapy treatment, and tests confirmed this. He then started using the Vielight Neuro Gamma at home, and after 12 weeks, his symptoms abated. Clinical tests and an fMRI scan confirmed the positive results from the in-home treatment.

The man in case study #2 was unwilling to without light therapy treatment long enough to be tested at the 2-month point after in-clinic treatment. He feared that his symptoms would return and didn’t want to risk losing the gains that he had made. He dropped out of the study, and purchased the Vielight Neuro Gamma device for in-home use. Dr. Naeser has heard that he continues to do in-home light therapy treatments and is doing well.

See our in-depth article, Light therapy a potential treatment for possible CTE.

2017 Light therapy for chronic TBI, an overview of research studies

A 2017 article by Michael R. Hamblin addresses photobiomodulation for traumatic brain injury and stroke. We suggest sections 5.2, 5.2, and 5.3 of the article, concerning “patients with chronic TBI.”

2016 Light therapy for TBI patients - an analysis

A 2016 publication discusses current, ongoing studies of traumatic brain injury patients either with transcranial LEDs (against the scalp) or with intranasal only LEDs.

2014 Light therapy for eleven patients with persistent post-concussion symptoms

Dr. Margaret Naeser worked with a team in Boston on the first clinical trial of light therapy for mTBI. The results were published in 2014 in the Journal of Neurotrauma: Significant Improvements in Cognitive Performance Post-Transcranial, Red/Near-Infrared Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Open-Protocol Study.  

2011 Light therapy for persistent post-concussion symptoms - two case studies

In 2011, Dr. Maraget Naeser was the lead author of Improved Cognitive Function After Transcranial, Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Traumatic Brain Injury: Two Case Reports published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. Dr. Naeser writes:

Transcranial red/NIR LED may be an inexpensive, noninvasive treatment, suitable for home treatments, to improve cognitive function in TBI patients, as well as to reduce symptom severity in PTSD patients. 

Also in 2011, Dr. Naeser authored this article with Michael R. Hamblin, Ph.D.: Potential for Transcranial Laser or LED Therapy to Treat Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Neurodegenerative Disease in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 

In humans, two chronic, mTBI cases showed improved cognition following a series of TLT treatments with red/NIR LED cluster heads.