Ultraviolet Light in Medicine

By Mitzi Haslinger – Copyright 2002-2010

Prism of lightA sample of blood is drawn from a patient’s arm. The sample is irradiated with ultraviolet (UV) light so that the disease-causing microorganisms and the cells containing them are killed and marked. When the blood is returned to the body, the immune system sees the dead organisms. This makes the live organisms visible to the immune system as well. UV blood irradiation has been called the perfect vaccine because it immunizes the body with the dead cells of the organisms that are already active in the body.

Blood absorbs some of the UV light energy in the ten or so seconds that it is treated. Once back inside the body, the blood then reradiates the UV. Ultraviolet blood irradiation gives a general boost to the immune system, in part by stimulating a large increase in the number of phagocytes in the bloodstream. A marked increase in oxygen in the blood has also been noted after a treatment.

John Richardson, president of the Foundation for Blood Irradiation, once had a UV blood treatment. When the blood was reinjected into his arm, he felt a dramatic change. “You can feel the energy in your blood,” he said. “A real perk-up. Oh, man.”

One patient, who I will refer to as Dave, was diagnosed as having bronchial pneumonia. A second doctor said he had chronic bronchitis. Dave tried various prescription drugs for two months with no improvement in his condition. After one UV blood irradiation treatment, the illness went away.

The immune system is the guardian and housekeeper of the body. It protects the body from pathogens and other foreign substances, destroys infected and malignant cells, and removes cellular debris. Its network of interacting organs and cells includes the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and tissue, stem cells, white blood cells, and antibodies.

Phagocytes are one type of white blood cell that patrols the bloodstream on the lookout for invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. When a phagocyte spots an invader, the alarm goes out to tell the rest of the troops the description of the invaders.

When disease-causing microorganisms wage war on the body, the successful ones find a way to hide from the immune system. Bacteria and viruses can live inside cells, and some are sneaky enough to disable the immune system’s communication network.

When UV-treated blood is returned to the body, the target organisms can no longer hide from the newly informed immune system. The phagocytes attack, using their fingerlike protrusions to help ingest and destroy bacteria, foreign particles, and cell debris. The immune system, armed with new knowledge about invaders, generally produces a dramatic increase in well-being shortly after treatment.

Early medical uses of light

In the 1870s Niels Ryberg Finsen, a Danish physician and medical researcher, began to study the benefits of sunlight on human health. By filtering the UV out of sunlight, he produced a beam of infrared light. He discovered that the infrared light prevented smallpox from causing scars.

Finsen then applied his genius to helping people who had lupus vulgaris, a form of tuberculosis that had no known cure and caused very disfiguring skin lesions. For this disease, Finsen took a light source and used a filter to remove the infrared rays, thus producing a band of light in the UV range. The treatment method applied UV light to each of the skin lesions. In most cases, the lesions healed rapidly with one or two treatments.

Finsen was afflicted with anemia and impaired function of the liver, heart, and spleen, diseases which had no effective treatments in his day. While searching for cures to his own afflictions, he found that light of various frequencies could treat many disorders. Though he never cured his own diseases, Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1903 for his contribution to the treatment of diseases with concentrated light radiation. He is known as the father of UV light use in medicine.

The Nobel Committee stated that there were two essential factors to the UV treatment: the effect of light on pathogenic microorganisms and the effect of light on the tissue itself (Nobel Foundation, 2000).

UV blood irradiation

In the 1920s Emmet Knott of Seattle, Washington, created a machine that irradiated blood with UV light. Knott first experimented on dogs that he had inoculated with bacteria. Similar to a kidney dialysis machine, the UV blood irradiation machine drew blood out of the body through tubing by an external pump, treated it with UV, and returned to the body. The UV treatment pumped the blood through a quartz chamber irradiated with a controlled amount of UV light.

Initially Knott tried to treat the entire blood volume in the dogs, but the dogs kept dying about five days after the treatment. A breakthrough occurred when his machine stopped working in the middle of treating a dog. The dog lived on, free of infection. Knott learned that he only needed to treat about five percent of the blood to have therapeutic effects and avoid the side effects of longer treatments that included shock and death.

In 1928 Knott used UV blood irradiation to treat a woman with severe septicemia, a disease caused by the invasion and persistence of pathogenic bacteria in the bloodstream. The woman recovered and was observed free of long-term side effects for five years before others were treated.

By the 1940s a small number of physicians in the United States used UV blood irradiation to successfully treat patients with bacterial infections, hepatitis, polio, pneumonia, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and a variety of other diseases.

Not only did the treatments destroy and inhibit growth of bacteria, they also inactivated toxins, increased oxygen in the blood, caused vasodilatation, and decreased platelet aggregation, along with a host of other beneficial effects.

The most common side effect was a flushing of the skin. This suggested that the autonomic nervous system, controlled by the midbrain, was somehow stimulated during treatment.

As developed by Knott, a typical treatment program is one to six treatments at weekly intervals. More serious infections require treatments more than once per week. Although there can be some damage to red and white blood cells if the UV radiation frequencies or energy levels are too high, low-level UV blood irradiation seems to be remarkably free of harmful side effects.

Knott’s machine has a “grandfather” status under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it was in interstate trade prior to the FDA’s formation in 1976. Several dozen clinics in the US have quietly continued to use this treatment method over the last fifty or so years, while the rest of mainstream medicine turned to antibiotics and other drug therapies.

After interest by the US medical community had declined, Eastern European physicians continued to study and use UV blood irradiation to treat patients. In the 1990s, Russian physicians developed an innovative alternative UV treatment using a small fiberoptic cable inserted into a vein with a needle. The optic fiber transmits low-intensity UV laser light to irradiate the blood. The results from this method are similar to results with Knott’s methodology.

Current state of UV technology

Although the data and case studies from the 1940s are extensive, they are not in the form of double-blind studies with control groups. Newer models of blood irradiation machines have state-of-the-art UV bulbs and laser technology, but they must meet FDA standards. In order for physicians to use the new models more freely or to claim specific cures, studies must be done to meet the FDA standards.

There are two foundations that see the benefit of UV blood irradiation technology in treating disease. The Foundation for Blood Irradiation promotes the UV blood irradiation process and one of its presidents, John Richardson, is rebuilding an original Knott machine.

According to Richardson, the Knott machine produced better results than the UV machines available today. The Knott machine uses a broadband of UV to treat the blood, whereas other machines use a narrower band of the UV spectrum.

One difficulty is that although Knott’s machine has “grandfather” status with the FDA, the UV bulbs used in this machine have high levels of mercury in them. The Foundation for Blood Irradiation’s aim is to get FDA approval for use of a new, lower-level mercury lamp in the Knott machine. The foundation relies on charitable donations to accomplish its goal.

The Foundation for Light Therapy is filing for FDA approval of modern blood irradiation medical devices in the United States (Hoffman, 2000). Led by Dr. Frank Morales, Medical Director for the foundation, a team of researchers from the foundation recently completed a preclinical trial using a modern state-of-the-art UV blood irradiation device along with oxidative medicine to treat patients.

The trial occurred in Africa on thirty people with HIV. Twenty-two people had either the beginning stages of the disease or full-blown AIDS. The remaining eight were on death vigils and their families had already made funeral arrangements.

When the team left, all thirty patients were mobile and had dramatically lowered viral counts. The research team will return to Africa to begin full clinical trials as the foundation raises the funds.

The research team has trained other doctors and nurses in the administration of UV blood irradiation. Over fifty people are currently being treated, with new patients being added as time and supplies permit.

Valuable technology

In the 1990s articles about drug-resistant microbes started to appear in the media. Bacterial immunity to antibiotics is partly due to misprescribing antibiotics for maladies like the common cold and sore throats. Except in rare cases, colds and sore throats are caused by viruses, which antibiotics do not affect.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are campaigning physicians to have them reduce the number of antibiotics they prescribe. Today people are dying from diseases that were once considered under control. Just one example is drug-resistant tuberculosis which is spreading worldwide once again (CDC, 2000). The American Medical Association has recommended that the FDA limit the use of antibacterial soaps and lotions because they also promote drug-resistant bacteria(AMA, 2000).

Some scientists at the CDC are so concerned with the spread of resistant strains of microbes that they and other colleagues have created the International Network for the Study and Prevention of Emerging Antimicrobial Resistance. They note that resistant microbes are “becoming a major public health problem worldwide.” (Richet, 2001)

There is a void being created by the overuse of antimicrobial drugs and chemicals that cannot be filled simply by creating more powerful drugs. Eventually bacteria become resistant to any drug. The problem of drug-resistant bacteria must be looked at from a new perspective. UV blood irradiation offers a potent alternative technology to antibiotics.

Overshadowed earlier this century by the unfolding pages of history, UV blood irradiation was a technology ahead of its time. The great potential use of UV light in medicine can be seen upon the horizon. It may be the wave of the future.


AMA recommends evaluation of anti-bacterial products. (2000, June 14). Atlanta: CNN. Retrieved April 17, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

CDC expands campaign against overuse of antibiotics. (2000, June 1). Atlanta: CNN. Retrieved April 17, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/06/01/antibiotic.overuse/index.html
Hoffman, R. (2000, July). Light Therapy. Boca Raton, FL: Foundation For Light Therapy. Retrieved April 17, 2000, from the World Wide Web: http://www.fflt.org/lighttherapy.htm

Richet HM, et al. (March-April 2001). Building Communication Networks: International Network for the Study and Prevention of Emerging Antimicrobial Resistance. Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol.7, No.2.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1903. (2000, June 16). Stockholm: The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved April 17, 2000, from the World Wide Web:

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