Photodynamic Therapy for Brain Tumors and Wound Healing

Researchers in the Photobiology Research Laboratory, headed by Harry Whelan, MD, have been involved in the area of photodynamic therapy (PDT) for malignant brain tumors, from canine models of gliomas (Whelan et al., 1993), preclinical binding and photosensitizer localization studies (Schmidt et al., 1996), to clinical trials in both adult and pediatric patients (Quirk et al., 2015). We have studied various photosensitizers and light sources and explored PDT near functional brain tissue (Schmidt et al., 2004). Currently, we are conducting clinical trials in pediatric (Phase I) and adult populations (Phase II). This technique has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for a patient population with generally poor prospects, particularly those with recurrent or unresectable tumors.

The Whelan lab also conducts research into the use of near-infrared light for wound healing. Near-infrared light stimulates improved energy metabolism in the mitochondria (Wong-Riley et al., 2005), which has been hypothesized to accelerate tissue growth and wound healing. In a multi-year investigation, Whelan and colleagues studied the use of near-infrared light to promote healing of mucositis from chemotherapy and radiation used to treat cancer in children. These studies demonstrated that diabetic skin ulcers and other wounds in mice healed much faster when exposed to special LEDs in the lab. Because near-infrared light stimulates improved energy metabolism in the mitochondria, it may also prove useful for treating mitochondrial diseases that affect the brain, eye, heart and muscle (Quirk et al., 2014, 2016). The Whelan lab also been funded by the National Institutes of Health in a study of neurodegenerative disease, traumatic brain injury and other childhood traumas, and has conducted a pilot study of near-infrared light therapy for diabetic macular edema, a form of diabetic eye disease.

Meet Our Team


Wei-Liang Chen

Research Technician


Yu-Wen Lee

Research Technician


Marsha Malloy, RN

Research Nurse II


Brendan Quirk

Research Scientist II


Jeffrey Sugar

Engineer III


Julie Wagner

Graduate Student


Anthony Zinos

Research Assistant

Funding Support & References

Funding Support

Ben's Neurofibromatosis Research Fund
“Photodynamic Therapy for Neurofibromatosis”
H.T. Whelan, MD, PI

Bleser Family Foundation
“Endowed Professorship/Endowed Chair”
H.T. Whelan, MD, PI


Quirk BJ, Brandal G, Donlon S1, Vera JC, Mang TS, Foy AB, Lew SM, Girotti AW, Jogal S, LaViolette PS, Connelly JM, Whelan HT. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for malignant brain tumors - where do we stand? Photodiagnosis Photodyn Ther. 2015 May 7. 2015 Sep;12(3):530-544.

Quirk, B.J., Sonowal, P., Jazayeri, M.A., Baker, J.E., Whelan, H.T. Cardioprotection from ischemia-reperfusion injury by near-infrared light in rats. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014; 32(9):505-511.

Quirk BJ, Whelan HT: Effect of red-to-near-infrared light on the reaction of isolated cytochrome c oxidase with cytochrome c. Photomed Laser Surg 2016 Dec; 34(12):631-637.

Schmidt MH, Bajic DM, Reichert KW, Martin TS, Meyer GA, Whelan HT: Light-emitting diodes as a light source for intra-operative photodynamic therapy. Neurosurgery. 1996; 38:552–557.

Schmidt MH, Meyer GA, Reichert KW, Cheng J, Krouwer HG, Ozker K, Whelan HT: Evaluation of photodynamic therapy near functional brain tissue in patients with recurrent brain tumors. Journal of NeuroOncology. 2004; 67:201–204.

Whelan HT, Schmidt MH, Segura AD, McAuliffe TL, Bajic DM, Murray KJ, Moulder JE, Strother DR, Thomas JP, Meyer, GA: The role of photodynamic therapy in posterior fossa brain tumors: A pre-clinical study in a canine glioma model. Journal of Neurosurgery. 1993; 79:562–568

Wong-Riley MMT, Eells JT, Whelan HT: Photobiomodulation directly benefits primary neurons functionally inactivated by toxins: Role of cytochrome c oxidase. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2005; 280:4761–4771.