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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Sponsor: Institute of Spinal Cord Injury, Iceland


1) Shimon Rochkind

2) Kimberly Byrnes, Juanita Anders, et al.

3) Albert Bohbot

4) Margaret Naeser

5) Relevant Stroke & Head Injury Research 

Lasers amplify light by producing coherent light beams. As a noninvasive, painless mechanism for stimulating regenerative processes that does not heat tissue, low-energy lasers are finding numerous therapeutic applications. Scientists speculate that laser energy alters many physiological processes, including cellular respiration and gene expression. 

Considerable intriguing research is emerging documenting the potential of laser therapy to treat both peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries. For example, in the case of cultured neuronal cells, laser irradiation induces substantial sprouting and outgrowth of neurites (i.e., budding axons and dendrites), apparently via the increased production of several regeneration-stimulating nerve growth factors.

Overall, animal studies indicate that laser therapy has a quick neuroprotective effect, preserves injured nerve functional activity, decreases injury-site scar tissue, lessens degeneration in corresponding motor neurons of the spinal cord, and increases axonal growth and myelinization. In cell cultures, laser therapy accelerates neuronal cell migration, cell growth, and fiber sprouting.

1) Dr. Shimon Rochkind (Israel), a pioneering scientist in this area, treated 31 patients with severe spinal-cord cauda equine injuries (average three years post injury) with laser therapy six hours daily for 21 consecutive days. Of these patients, nearly half showed some functional motor improvement.

Rochkind also examined the effects of embryonic spinal-cord-cell transplantation and laser therapy on recovery after SCI in rats. Results indicated that the best recovery of limb function and gait performance, electrophysiological conduction, and histological parameters (indicating implanted tissue growth) occurred after cell implantation and laser radiation.

This work is increasingly relevant because several patients, who have had various function-restoring cells transplanted into their injured cords, have augmented transplantation with laserpuncture therapy discussed below.

Other studies on injuries to peripheral nerves (i.e., nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord) further demonstrate laser-therapy’s potential neuroregenerative power. For example, Rochkind examined the effects of irradiation on axonal regeneration across a transected peripheral nerve bridged with a biodegradable polymer. Such polymers may ultimately play an important role in paving the pathway for regeneration in SCI. Briefly, rats were irradiated at the reconstructed peripheral injury location, as well as the spinal-cord areas corresponding to the affected peripheral nerves. Compared to controls, laser-treated rats had more myelinated (i.e. insulated) axons going across the polymer bridge, signal conduction going through the axons, and functional recovery.

In another study in humans, Rochkind evaluated the effectiveness of laser irradiation in patients with incomplete peripheral nerve injuries or injuries to the brachial plexus nerves (a nerve network that conducts signals from the spine to the arms). Specifically, 18 subjects, who had sustained their injuries at least six months earlier, were randomly assigned to receive either transcutaneous laser irradiation or treatment from an identical looking placebo device. Subjects were treated for 21 consecutive days - three hours daily at the injury area of the peripheral nerve and two hours daily at the corresponding spinal-cord segments. The subjects were periodically evaluated for six months. Compared to controls, the laser-irradiated subjects improved in motor but not sensory function.

2) Drs. Kimberly Byrnes, Juanita Anders (photo) and colleagues (USA) have generated evidence suggesting that laser therapy is beneficial after SCI. Specifically, their studies demonstrated that laser irradiation alters gene expression in rats after acute SCI and exerts an anti-inflammatory effect on the injured cord. As such, it could reduce secondary injury and, in turn, some of the barriers inhibiting axonal regeneration.  

Especially relevant to the promising olfactory-tissue transplantation procedures discussed elsewhere, the investigators have shown that laser irradiation alters gene expression of regeneratively-endowed olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). This alteration enhances the expression of key growth factors and extracellular matrix proteins that support neuronal regeneration. The findings support the use of laser therapy in combination with OEC transplantation.

Recently, the investigative team compared the effects of laser therapy in rats with injuries created by either 1) cutting a portion of the cord (i.e., hemisection) or 2) an impact-caused contusion (the most common sort of injury).  Immediately after injury, rats were irradiated through the skin at the injury site for 14 consecutive days. Compared to controls, laser therapy augmented axonal survival and re-growth, and functional recovery for both types of injury. 

3) Albert Bohbot (La Chapelle, Montlinard, France) has developed laserpuncture therapy which combines elements of acupuncture and laser therapy, both of which have shown potential for restoring some function after SCI. Although the use of lasers to stimulate acupuncture points is not new, Bohbot has developed and refined this technology and directed it towards paralysis.

With the support of a French Government technology-transfer grant and assistance of scientists at one of France’s leading engineering universities, Bohbot developed a sophisticated electronic instrument that substituted an infrared laser light beam for acupuncture needles. This device specifically emits infrared energy - the part of the electromagnetic spectrum just beyond the limit of visible red light.

Central to laserpuncture therapy is a network of more than 300 acupuncture points Bobhot elucidated based on many years of study, including the examination of ancient Chinese texts. This network relates acupunctural energy meridians to dermatome levels. Bohbot believes that the stimulation of energy through this network restores some function.

Because laserpuncture therapy seems to have restored significant function in many with supposedly complete clinical injuries, Bohbot speculates it is possible to restore some function without intact neurons bridging the spinal injury site. Substituting prevailing biomedical dogma with innovative explanations involving quantum physics and energy medicine, Bohbot believes that there are backup mechanisms to the spinal cord for carrying messages from the brain to the body. He suggests that a signal may be mediated through an electromagnetic energy impulse instead of standard, biochemical conduction through intact neurons using neurotransmitters. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that energy interactions are possible above and below the injury site.

Regeneration may also be due to the turning on of residual, but dormant, neurons that have survived the injury. Scientists now believe that such dormant neurons characterize many injuries clinically classified as “complete” and only a few of these neurons to be turned on to regain some function. Perhaps laserpuncture is a therapeutic switch that turns them on.

Bohbot has treated many people with SCI, most of whom were at least a year post-injury. Many claim to have regained significant function.

The sessions are augmented with more traditional physical rehabilitation designed to enhance restored function. Bohbot and colleague Dr. Cécile Jame-Collet studied the effect of this laserpuncture program in 22 individuals with SCI (both paraplegia and quadriplegia) and found that over time, the program increased both thigh and calf circumference.

Bohbot’s patients include those who have been recipients of transplanted, regeneratively endowed cells or tissue, including olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), patient-derived olfactory tissue, and bone-marrow-derived stem cells. In a recent article, Bohbot evaluated the functional improvements by electromyography (electrical recording of muscle activity) of three individuals who underwent Dr. Huang’s OEC transplantation procedures. As discussed elsewhere, OECs theoretically promote axonal regeneration by producing insulating myelin sheaths around both growing and damaged axons, secreting growth factors, and generating structural and matrix macromolecules that lay the tracks for axonal elongation. Bohbot’s results suggested that the laserpuncture/cell-transplantation-combination therapy restored some voluntary muscle activity.


The author of this report has talked to many individuals who feel that they have accrued substantial benefit from laserpuncture and often routinely traveled great distances to obtain treatment.

One of these individuals was Daniel, a paralyzed veteran. While at the Surface Warfare Officer School in Newport, Rhode Island., Daniel sustained a T12 injury in motor-vehicle accident four months after his 1999 Naval Academy graduation. He noted, “In the last six months working with Albert, I have seen both practical and psychological progress. Gaining the ability to pedal a standard stationary bike and walk in braces has increased my circulation and helped my legs to stay healthy and heal quicker. On top of this physical benefit, such progress has increased my confidence and fed my motivation to work harder.”

4) Dr. Margaret Naeser and colleagues (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) have developed an effective therapy for SCI-associated carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) and spasticity-related hand-flexion problems. Naeser’s therapy specifically stimulates hand acupuncture points with a low-energy laser beam and a mild electrical current. Specifically, the therapy uses 1) a laser pointer powered by two AAA batteries and 2) microamps transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) using a MicroStim 100 TENS device.

Naeser’s approach is supported by rigorously designed clinical studies. These studies indicate that approximately 90% of individuals with mild-moderate CTS treated with her program three times a week for 4-5 weeks by a licensed acupuncturist will have significant, enduring relief from CTS pain (Arch Phys Med Rehabil 83, 2001).

5) Stroke & Head Injury: With relevance to SCI, laser therapy’s neuroregenerative influences are further documented by stroke and head-injury research.  For example, evidence indicates that laser therapy improves outcomes to some degree after ischemic stroke (neurological damage caused by interruption of brain’s blood flow). Specifically, in an international, multicenter clinical trial, 120 patients were randomized to receive transcranial laser therapy (i.e., through the skull) or treatment from a sham device emitting no laser energy within 24 hours of stroke onset. After 90 days, 70% of the laser-treated subjects had improvements compared to only 51% of the controls.

In a more recent, larger study, 660 patients with acute ischemic stroke were randomized to receive either transcranial laser therapy or sham treatment. In the laser-treated group, 120 achieved a favorable outcome compared to 101 in the control group.

Regarding head injury, Dr. A. Oron and colleagues (Israel) have shown that transcranial laser therapy reduces head injury in rats when administered four hours after trauma.