Researchers from the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center in the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases have come out with a new study that claims lasers administered with flu shots can help boost the immune system, therefore assisting in the body’s fight against influenza strains. The use of lasers can increase the vaccine’s efficacy by up to 100-fold by boosting dendritic cells, which are used to alert the immune system of pathogens.

The authors of the study found that placing an infrared laser on the site of a flu vaccine shot in the arm could potentially become a new form of treatment. Though their study was completed on mice, the researchers claim that the laser could be effective on humans too.

Mice were treated with near-infrared laser light for one minute before researchers jabbed them with the H1N1 flu vaccine. They found that the mice showed an improved immune system afterwards. The animals treated with laser light also ended up surviving longer than others that received near lethal doses of flu.

The doctors who worked on the study – Dr. Satoshi Kashiwagi and Dr. Mark Poznansky – originally heard of the use of lasers in medical treatments in Russia, where they saw doctors using powerful lasers to treat patients with kidney cancer. They found that these patients were actually surviving longer than others because of the boosts their immune systems received from these lasers, even though the practice seemed a bit odd.

“We have shown, for the first time, that non-tissue damaging NIR laser light given in short exposures to small areas of the skin, without the use of any additional agents, increases a broad spectrum of immune responses to influenza antigen,” the authors wrote in the conclusion of their study.

The laser could be used as an adjuvant – or an additive to a vaccine that helps improve its performance – without the negative side effects of some other common types of adjuvants. The researchers will continue to test the treatment’s plausibility in humans. Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious disease doctor and vaccine researcher at the Mayo Clinic, told the Boston Globe that the work is “innovative and intriguing.” He continued: “It’s to me very encouraging that people are thinking of things that haven’t been tried yet and showing they can work.”

Source: Kashiwagi S, Yuan J, Forbes B, Hibert ML, Lee ELQ, et al. Near-Infrared Laser Adjuvant for Influenza Vaccine. 2013. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82899.