Ultraviolet Irradiation of Blood: "The Cure That Time Forgot"?

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;996:295-309. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-56017-5_25.


Ultraviolet blood irradiation (UBI) was extensively used in the 1940s and 1950s to treat many diseases including septicemia, pneumonia, tuberculosis, arthritis, asthma and even poliomyelitis. The early studies were carried out by several physicians in USA and published in the American Journal of Surgery. However with the development of antibiotics, UBI use declined and it has now been called "the cure that time forgot". Later studies were mostly performed by Russian workers and in other Eastern countries and the modern view in Western countries is that UBI remains highly controversial.This chapter discusses the potential of UBI as an alternative approach to current methods used to treat infections, as an immune-modulating therapy and as a method for normalizing blood parameters. No resistance of microorganisms to UV irradiation has been reported, and multi-antibiotic resistant strains are as susceptible as their wild-type counterparts. Low and mild doses of UV kill microorganisms by damaging the DNA, while any DNA damage in host cells can be rapidly repaired by DNA repair enzymes. However the use of UBI to treat septicemia cannot be solely due to UV-mediated killing of bacteria in the blood-stream, as only 5-7% of blood volume needs to be treated with UV to produce the optimum benefit. UBI may enhance the phagocytic capacity of various phagocytic cells (neutrophils and dendritic cells), inhibit lymphocytes, and oxidize blood lipids. The oxidative nature of UBI may have mechanisms in common with ozone therapy and other oxygen therapies. There may be some similarities to extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) using psoralens and UVA irradiation. However there are differences between UBI and ECP in that UBI tends to stimulate the immune system, while ECP tends to be immunosuppressive. With the recent emergence of bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics, UBI should be more investigated as an alternative approach to infections, and as an immune-modulating therapy.

Keywords: Antigen-presenting cells; Blood cells; Cytokines; DNA repair; Infections; Knott hemo-irradiator; UBI; Ultraviolet C.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / radiation effects*
  • Bacterial Infections / blood
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy*
  • Bacterial Load / radiation effects
  • Blood / microbiology
  • Blood / radiation effects*
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Microbial Viability / radiation effects
  • Photopheresis / adverse effects
  • Photopheresis / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ultraviolet Rays* / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / methods*


  • DNA, Bacterial