Laser Research Centre

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Laser Research Centre Introduction

The Faculty of Health Sciences based Laser Research Centre, under the direction of Prof Heidi Abrahamse is leading efforts to investigate the field of phototherapy with specific emphasis on Photobiomodulation (PBM), Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), Phyto-Photodynamic Therapy (P-PDT) and Stem Cell Therapy. While this treatment modality is very well established in many countries, phototherapy is utilised by very few disciplines and the full spectrum of uses is yet to be realised in South Africa. The therapeutic value of PBM for application in wound healing and stem cell therapy (regenerative medicine) is investigated by establishing biochemical responses and its effects on the metabolic events in cell culture and artificial skin constructs. Research in PDT used for cancer treatment focusses on the effectiveness of Metallophthalocyanine photosensitisers in the most prevalent South African cancers.


The objectives of the photodynamic therapy (PDT) niche area is to develop an alternative in vitro therapeutic intervention that can aid within the diagnosis and treatment of cancer cells, in order to promote ground breaking South African research, keeping the 4th industrial revolution in mind. The main focus is on investigating PDT gold nano targeting photosensitizer (PS) molecular target active drug delivery within in vitro cultures of colorectal, melanoma, breast and cervical cancer cells, as well as continuing to investigate Zinc phthalocyanine (ZnPcS) active nano targeting photosensitizer molecular target for early Photodiagnosis (PDD), as well as PDT treatment of melanoma, colorectal, breast, lung and cervical cancer cells. The possible synergistic effects of CBD with ZnPcS active nano targeting photosensitizer (PS) molecular target in colorectal and melanoma cancer cells to prevent secondary metastasis, as well as these effects in in vitro breast, lung and cervical cancer cells is being investigated.


The main focus of these projects are to use plant extracts and bioactive compounds alone and in combination with laser irradiation to study its effectiveness on various in vitro cancer cells with the intention of developing potent natural photosensitizers (PS) to develop alternative therapeutic modalities in South Africa. The molecular and cellular effects of laser irradiation and photosensitizers (PS) on different cancer cell lines, as well as the effect of a combination of laser irradiation, photosensitizers (PS) and phytochemicals, used for photodynamic therapy (PDT) will be assessed using in vitro lung, breast, colorectal, cervical and melanoma cancer cells.


The objectives of the wound healing niche projects are to determine and ascertain the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms of photobiomodulation (PBM) in in vitro diabetic wounded cell models, and to explore alternative, cheaper, more effective treatments for diabetic chronic wounds. Using light in the form of lasers or LEDs to treat wounds falls within the scope of medicine in the 4th industrial revolution. Projects under this niche focus on specific cell signalling pathways involved in wound healing.


The objectives of the stem cell niche is to determine optimal laser parameters that produce positive effects with regard to viability and proliferation, to determine the molecular and cellular mechanism associated with PBM on adipose derived stem cells (ADSCs) and to determine the efficacy of PBM to induce or optimize ADSCs into different cell types viz. fibroblasts, smooth muscle, and neurons with and without the addition of growth factors.

Currently, the group consist of 6 academic staff members (one NRF B2 rated, one NRF C1, one NRF Y1 rated researchers), 3 research associates, one administrative assistant, 7 post-doctoral fellows, 15 doctorate, and 4 masters students. Major studies have been made in laser research regarding cancer therapy, wound healing and stem cell differentiation with several publications emanating in the last 10 years. The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and is managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF). In 2016 Prof Heidi Abrahamse was awarded the prestigious Chair in Laser Applications in Health which was bestowed by The Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor and upgraded to a tier 1 (2021-2025).

International acknowledgement of their scientific contribution to the field was reflected when the group hosted the first international World Association of Laser Therapy conference, attended by 190 delegates representing 28 different countries in October 2008 on the African continent. The Laser Research Centre hosted a PDT Conference in 2012 in collaboration with the African Laser Centre and DST as part of the Germany/South Africa Year of Science. In 2015 the LRC hosted an international workshop on Mechanisms, Applications and Clinical Training in Photobiomodulation, which was attended by 90 students and practicing clinicians as well as industry. In 2016 a public lecture entitled “Can all diseases be treated with light?” was presented by Prof Michael Hamblin (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA), a distinguished visiting professor to the LRC. A workshop on “Laser Therapy Photobiomodulation Training Course 2016” was also hosted by the LRC and was presented by Mr. James Carroll (CEO Thor Lasers). In 2017 the LRC hosted a faculty lecture “Bioprospecting of Medicinal plants for human welfare”, which was presented by Prof. Parimelazhagan Thangaraj from the Department of Botany, School of Life Sciences, Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, India. In 2019, LRC hosted an ‘international symposium on Biophotonics in Cancer’ in collaboration with African Laser Center (ALC), attended by 150 delegates representing various countries in September 2019. In addition, LRC hosted a public lecture and a faculty seminar in 2019. “Photodynamic Therapy: A Contribution to Sustainable, High-Quality Healthcare Systems” by Prof. Luis Arnaut, University of Coimbra, Portugal, President of the International Photodynamic Association and “Multi-functional Biocompatible Scaffold Materials for Tissue Engineering Applications” by Dr Rajan, Department of Natural Products Chemistry, School of Chemistry, Madurai Kamaraj University, India. An online public lecture entitled “Microbial Disinfection with Pulsed Blue Light” was presented by Professor Chukuka S Enwemeka, Director of Photomedicine Research Lab, College of Health and Human Services, San Diego State University and Visiting Professor of the LRC in 2021. The event was attended by over 50 members of the general public, academics, and post-graduate students.

The LRC has established long term collaborations with many national and international universities including Harvard Medical School, USA, San Diego State University, USA, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan, Madurai Kamaraj University, India, University of Ulm, Germany, University of Cairo, Egypt, Department of Photodynamic Medical Laser Research Center, Yara Institute, Iran, University of Buffalo, USA, Stowers Institute of Medical research, Kansas City, Missouri, USA, Institute of Science, Banaras Hindu University, India, Vellore Institute of Technology, India, Bharathiar University, India, University of Tel-Aviv, Israel, AJA University of Medical Sciences, Iran, University of Medicinal Sciences, Tehran, Iran, Department of Cytology, RAS, Russia, National Institute for Occupational Health, SA, University of the Witwatersrand, SA, Rhodes University, SA, UNISA and CSIR, Pretoria, SA.

Contact Details:

Laser Research Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg,

Postal Address:

P.O. Box 17011, Doornfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2028, (Tel): 27 11 559-6550/6926 (Fax): 27 11 559-6884.