The clinical research conducted through the Center will investigate how to use light to improve people’s lives by stabilizing their circadian rhythms, the natural internal clock that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Researchers will study how light, either from daylight or electric indoor light, affects circadian rhythms in various populations, from the very young to the very old, including patients with COVID-19, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and other illnesses. The goal is to help abate symptoms and improve their sleep, mental health, and cognition.
Mariana Figueiro, PhD, has been recruited from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) to create and serve as Director of the Center. She headed the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at RPI in Troy, New York, and is an internationally known leader in light research and education. She began her career in architecture and started studying lighting in 1996, developing insights into how light impacts circadian rhythms and sleep and how it may affect diseases.
She has four multimillion-dollar grants, including a prestigious training grant, from the National Institutes of Health. She also has garnered loyal support from a wide range of industry sponsors.
Dr. Figueiro has brought 17 members of her team to join the new Mount Sinai Center, including Mark Rea, PhD, who served as LRC Director for almost 30 years, and is now a Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at Icahn Mount Sinai. He will serve as Associate Director and assist with setting up the center at Mount Sinai.
“We are really excited about bringing light as an adjunct therapy to many other therapies being used at Mount Sinai,” said Dr. Figueiro, who has also been appointed Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at Icahn Mount Sinai. “Many people take light for granted. Our work can improve all phases of patients’ lives from premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to the aging suffering from cognitive decline.”
Their expertise is in light and human health, energy efficiency, plant health and lighting, and safety in transportation such as outdoor lighting and lighting for emergency vehicles, passenger planes, and submarines. They hope to expand their research into other clinical areas as well as into using ultraviolet technology in sterilization, a technique that was elevated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Center will seamlessly combine basic science, clinical research, and bioengineering and design to bolster our knowledge of light’s impact on human health and safety,” said Annetine Gelijns, PhD, JD, Professor and Chair of Population Health Science and Policy at Icahn Mount Sinai. “Dr. Figueiro’s commitment to research, education, and administration is unique. She and her team will build on their scientific expertise and partner with the lighting industry to engineer technology for clinical and industrial applications and will forge public-private partnerships to support novel avenues of research.”
Mount Sinai’s existing team of light researchers, who are investigating how bright light therapy could help with cancer-related fatigue, sleep, and cognition in multiple myeloma and breast cancer patients, will also be members of the Center.