How our physical body is able to initiate and complete its own healing is one of its most remarkable features. Even a simple finger cut initiates responses from dozens of types of cells – the smallest units in our body – coordinated to achieve specific results, such as stopping blood loss, killing foreign bacteria and preventing infection, creating new blood capillaries, repairing and regenerating skin layers. These processes rely on the astonishing intelligence of our cells and the different ways in which they can communicate and function together towards one goal.
Key to this remarkable healing concerto is the ability of individual cells to communicate with each other using specialized chemical messengers,which provide specific stimuli that direct a cell to perform one or another function. For example, medical science has identified a group of messengers called Growth Factors. These chemical messengers act to stimulate the proliferation, growth and maturation of young cells that will replace damaged cells in a wound .
In terms of messaging, some remarkable developments took place in the early 1980s, when researchers started to accumulate evidence proving that light can also act as a messenger for initiating regeneration and repair. In coMra-Therapy visible colour lights are used precisely as a messenger to initiate this process – communicating a message of healing to cells. In this article I will start discussing the actions of light as a messenger on cells.
Talking to cells with chemicals
How do cells recognise what to do at any moment? Cells can send and receive specific signals, enabling them to coordinate their actions around a particular task, such as a response to physical injury .
What gives cells this ability to perceive and differentiate between different incoming stimuli are specialised receptors located in the enclosing membrane of a cell. When a particular messenger molecule is recognised and coupled to its target receptor on the outer surface of the membrane, this acts as a switch that launches certain physiological responses inside the cell.
Watch this Youtube video, which illustrates graphically how a message is transmitted from a cell’s environment and initiates a response inside the cell (a process called signal transduction).
So a cell can perform a number of functions, depending on the received message. It can start growing, produce other messenger molecules or perform any other useful function.
The concept of influencing or changing the functions of cells through the introduction of selected messenger molecules is well known. In fact, it is the central idea of modern day pharmacology . Here, pharmacology relies on a purely reductionistic approach, in which multitudes of new signaling pathways are identified and then new drugs are designed in an attempt to elicit specific responses in the cells.
However, as a result of the immense complexity of chemical communication systems within the body, the many negative side effects of drugs are well publicised. Whenever a potent messenger is introduced, it will affect the regulation of other processes in the body.
Is there a different way in which we can deliver a message of healing to our cells?
Light as a messenger
Remarkably, cells can respond to light in a very similar way to chemical messengers! And here I am not only referring to those cells that have as their primary function the perception of colour in our eyes, but to all the other types of cells in our body.
This topic concerning communication with cells using light is of great importance to understanding the workings of coMra-Therapy, and in different articles we will discuss it at length. To start, though, I would like to share the results of an experiment that amply demonstrates the action of light as a messenger.
But first, a short introduction is needed. Progenitor cells are young and undeveloped cells that lie dormant in tissue. To replace old or injured cells these dormant cells can be activated by special chemical messengers, such as growth factors. Once activated, the progenitor cells start to grow (increase in size) and they begin to show the structure and functions of one particular type of cell out of many possible others, a process called cell differentiation.
To enable the fundamental processes involved in tissue repair to be studied experiments are conducted with cells in controlled conditions, (“test tube” or in vitro experiments), and growth factors are used to initiate the processes of cell proliferation and differentiation.
A group of researchers led by Dr Juanita Anders from Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, U.S.A., studied the actions of chemical messengers as well as light, on the growth and differentiation of human neural progenitor cells in vitro .
Three separate groups of cells were formed for the experiment. In the first group no treatment was applied (control group). In the second group growth factors were added to the cells. And in the third group near-infrared light was applied to the cells.
After 7 days the cells were assessed and the groups compared. It was found that the cells treated with light were starting to grow and develop into normal mature cells, just as the cells treated with growth factors. The growth of neurites, long projections from a neuron that will form nerve fibers (axons), were equally stimulated by light as by growth factors. Also, both the treated cell groups similarly expressed special characteristics that are known to be related to the normal development of progenitor cells (neuronal and glial markers).
Through trying to understand how light stimulated the growth of cells the researchers identified that light actually stimulated the production of growth factors by the cells themselves (endogenous production of growth factors). Genes that encode these messengers were found to be activated in the light treated group.
The researchers made several other very interesting findings, such as, for example, the involvement of the ATP molecule (the energy currency inside cells) in the messaging cascade. However, I will discuss ATP and light later, for now I just want to highlight the conclusion of this study:
“This study demonstrates that NHNPCs [normal human neural progenitor cells] are not only capable of being sustained by light in the absence of growth factors, but that they are also able to differentiate normally as assessed by neurite formation.”
In other words, the experiment showed that light alone was able to stimulate the growth and maturation of young progenitor cells towards being a fully functioning part of a greater community, in this case nervous tissue.
The ability of light to participate in cellular messaging (gene expression and release of growth factors and cytokines) has drawn a lot of attention from researchers in recent years. For further reading I recommend a very comprehensive review by Peplow et al . They reviewed papers published from 2002 to 2009 on human and animal cells that involved the effects of light on wound or soft tissue repair and concluded:
“Findings from the reviewed studies clearly demonstrate the ability of laser irradiation to modulate gene expression and the release of growth factors and cytokines from cells in culture.”
And of great importance is the fact that these processes of modulation by light were identified in a very wide variety of types of cells (keratinocytes, fibroblasts, rat bone marrow, mesenchymal stem cells, etc).
And lastly, some fun food for thought. In a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods by Mathew et al in 2010, a remarkable interaction of a laser beam and growing neuron axon was reported . A pulsating Near Infrared Laser beam placed at a distance changed the direction of growth of an axon! In 45% of observed cases axons were attracted to the laser beam spot. You can see the images included in the free abstract on the publisher’s website (see link below).
1. Wikipedia (2012). Overview of growth factors involved in wound healing.
2. Widmaier E, Raff H, Strang K (2004). Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. 9th edition.
3. Rang HP (2006). The receptor concept: pharmacology’s big idea. British journal of pharmacology. 147:9-16. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0706457
4. Anders JJ, Romanczyk TB, Ilev IK, Moges H, Longo L, Xingjia W, Waynant RW (2008) Light Supports Neurite Outgrowth of Human Neural Progenitor Cells In Vitro: The Role of P2Y Receptors. Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics, IEEE Journal. 14(1):118-125.doi: 10.1109/JSTQE.2008.916181
5. Peplow PV, Chung T-Y, Ryan B, Baxter GD (2011) Laser Photobiomodulation of Gene Expression and Release of Growth Factors and Cytokines from Cells in Culture: A Review of Human and Animal Studies.Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 29(5):285-304. doi: 10.1089/pho.2010.2846
6. Mathew M, Amat-Roldan I, Andrés R, Santos SICO, Artigas D, Soriano E, Loza-Alvarez P (2010). Signalling effect of NIR pulsed lasers on axonal growth. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 186(2):196-201. doi:10.1016/j.jneumeth.2009.11.018
Provided by Lyra Nara