Groundbreaking Research by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Reveals Fascinating Connections Between Light and Human Health

February 1, 2023 Rachael J Richards

Acuity Brands plays key role in development of customized spectral lighting system to translate breakthrough wellness research into a built environment

by: Jeannine Wang, PE LC
Director, Specialty Technology Solutions
Acuity Brands Lighting and Controls  

A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) is the site of a pioneering application featuring innovative lighting technology inspired by biological discoveries. 

Multi-year research studies conducted by a team led by Drs. James Greenberg and Richard Lang has focused on how light can optimize health and healing as part of CCHMC’s overall mission of advancing pediatric care and patient outcomes. The result has been the development of a spectrally tunable, cycled lighting system that incorporates key features of natural daylight that is biologically aware and aesthetically sound.

Initial clinical studies of cycled lighting environments in an NICU environment have supported lighting’s use to promote better weight gain and decreased length of stay among patients. An additional string of discoveries by the Lang Research Laboratory has uncovered that mammals have light-sensing cells (photoreceptors) not only within their eyes, but also within their skin, central nervous system, and adipose tissue (AKA body fat). These new findings suggest a connection between these light-sensing photoreceptors and various developmental functions within the human body. And further, that light stimuli could then potentially impact development or treatment. 

A NICU environment provides an ideal setting for studying the relationship between lighting and wellness. The neonatal period is the most rapid, dramatic period of growth and development during the human lifespan. The average length of patient stay is approximately one month. Growth and development are closely monitored and represent key patient outcomes no matter the admitting diagnosis.

Translating research findings into a built environment

The next challenge for CCHMC became converting these new findings into a functional lighting system for its NICU patient rooms. The system would need to mimic natural daylight and produce the violet light wavelengths found in concentration during twilight that stimulates a deep brain photoreceptor. In turn, that photoreceptor sends signals that influence a number of body functions, including metabolism. This violet wavelength also stimulates the skin directly and is involved in eye development, wound healing, and circadian entrainment.

In addition to twilight, other wavelengths in natural light in the blue and blue-green range have different stimulating effects for photoreceptors in the eye as well as white fat cells. These wavelengths balance how fast the body burns its layer of fat to maintain body temperature, address fetal eye development specifically, and have an impact on circadian entrainment. Because there is so much to learn about light and the interaction of these effects and how various combinations affect human development, influence energy metabolism, and impact disease susceptibility, CCHMC sought to take these scientific discoveries from laboratory to patient room.

Spectral Lighting System Development

A highly collaborative team was formed to design, test, and install a research-grade, spectrally tunable lighting system that could meet stringent project requirements.

Acuity Brands’ lighting solutions expertise was called on for the areas of lighting product development, controls and user-interface development, and as the manufacturer. The unique lighting system specified for this project had to deliver on specific identified spectral requirements as a treatment protocol for patients. Also, it needed to deliver precise wavelengths in sufficient quantity while simultaneously producing high quality white illumination for the visual comfort of patients, family, and staff.

Equally important requirements of the lighting system were delivering a distribution of light that would provide overall pleasing illumination in the room and a luminaire design that maintained an aesthetic compatible with other design elements, robustly constructed to meet the environmental demands of a patient care space. The lighting system also needed to support the visual requirements of medical observation by caregivers.

Beyond the lighting system performance, the lighting controls needed to enable interactions from a variety of stakeholders and perspectives, including conventional in-room manual lighting controls and a custom-designed web-based user interface that is key to taking the advanced science in spectral lighting to the patient room. Given the quantity of luminaires and knowing that the spectral lighting system would require at least six channels per luminaire, Fresco™ DMX controls provided the backbone (behind the scenes) controls driven by the custom-user interface.

In-room manual lighting controls would consist of button stations for individual on/off control of each permanently installed wall-mounted patient or family luminaire. Button stations were required to have override capability by the nursing staff through the custom user interface software to ensure the patient is receiving the proper dosing for treatment from the spectral lighting system. Dosing is also monitored and deployed by the research team as part of the continued scientific research now that the laboratory has been extended to all patient rooms in the NICU.

Learn more 

Taking novel science from laboratory to the built environment, especially in a critical healthcare setting, is no small feat. It took the vision of the client, the commitment and expertise from the design team, and a manufacturing partner with the engineering talent, manufacturing capability, and digital platform development proficiency to make this successful. Acuity Brands is honored to be the manufacturing partner to help lead the industry in exploring and defining what light can do for our health and wellbeing.

To learn more details about the well-being research and project development of this new technology, please refer to the white paper entitled: The Story of the Critical Care Building Neonatal Care Spectral Lighting System prepared by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

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