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Q&A with Jolien Robijns, PhD

jolien-robijnsYou have received multiple awards this year for your study, Photobiomodulation Therapy Can Prevent The Development Of Severe Acute Radiodermatitis In Head And Neck Cancer Patients, including Best of Clinical Applications, Dr. Richard E. Fitzpatrick Best Overall Clinical Research and Innovation Award, and the Early Career Development Award. What does winning these awards mean to you? How will winning the awards impact your research?
I feel honored to receive this much appreciation from the ASLMS as a young researcher in the field of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT). However, this project was not possible without the help of the “LOwLight” team consisting of researchers, physicians, and nurses led by Prof. Dr. Mebis at “UHasselt, Jessa Hospital and Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg” embedded in the “Limburg Clinical Research Center” (LCRC). Most importantly, we may not forget the patients who participated in the trial. They are the reason why we keep searching for new medical solutions.

These awards give a positive boost to the research we perform in PBMT and supportive cancer care. The ultimate goal of our team at LOwLIght is to become a main player on (inter)national level in 3 domains: patient care, scientific research, and training. We want to become acknowledged as an innovative, high quality organization with an excellent reputation, a strong network, and a motivated team with extensive expertise. The vision of LOwLIght is to combine clinical research with patient care in order to make progress in the field of supportive cancer care via PBMT.

How did your background lead you to research and development in Photobiomodulation?
I was already fascinated by clinical research during my Biomedical Sciences studies at Hasselt University (Hasselt, Belgium). In my last master's year, I wanted to do a clinical internship, preferably within oncology. I approached Prof. Dr. Mebis, head of the Oncology Department at Jessa Hospital (Hasselt, Belgium), after a lecture with the request to do an internship at his department. Dr. Mebis invited me for an interview and was able to tell me that they were starting up a new project on PBMT and acute radiodermatitis (ARD). I immediately went into this, and that is how the ball started rolling. The internship and final results went so well that I decided to investigate the topic during my Ph.D. After looking for the necessary financing, I was able to start my Ph.D. in October 2014. The main goal of my Ph.D. project was to investigate the efficacy of PBMT in the revention and management of ARD in cancer patients. My project's results demonstrated that PBMT could effectively reduce severe ARD incidence in both breast and head and neck cancer patients. Since October 2018, I have further investigated the beneficial effects of PBMT for a broad set of cancer therapy-related complications (e.g., ARD, oral mucositis, neuropathy, alopecia, etc.) as a postdoctoral researcher in collaboration with our team of researchers, clinicians, and nurses. This research is essential because it is application-oriented and ultimately offers added value to the patient. It gives me great satisfaction to work on something you get much recognition from the patients.

What are some key developments in this field?
The use of light therapy-based applications for cancer therapy–related adverse events has steadily increased in the past 40 years. The most well-known and studied indication of PBMT in supportive cancer care is oral mucositis (OM), an inflammation of the oral mucosal lining. A recent (2019) systematic review by Zadik et al. showed that based on the available evidence, PBMT is an effective therapy for the prevention of OM, using well-defined PBM parameters in specific patient populations. Various internationally well-recognized health organizations in oncology (ESMO, MASCC/ISOO, NICE) recommend PBMT toprevent and manage OM.

Recent advances in understanding the mechanisms of action of PBM and dosimetric parameters of PBM have resulted in examining other oncologyrelated conditions that may lead to effective management of a broader range of complications associated with cancer treatment. The application of PBMT could enhance patient adherence to the prescribed cancer therapy, improve quality of life, lead to better treatment outcomes, and reduce the cost of cancer care. Together with the World Association for photobiomoduLation Therapy (WALT), we develop PBM guidelines for cancer therapy-related side effects in research and clinical setting.

A practical problem that arises when initializing treatment with PBM is that it requires many treatments early on, which translate into visiting the clinic two to three times a week. In certain medical conditions, it is recommended to receive daily treatments, which creates an obstacle for many patients who depend on others for transportation or are house-bound. In such cases, a home-use device would appear to provide a significant advantage. Also, in times of a pandemic such as COVID-19, governments are encouraging programs that support selfmanagement from home, thereby reducing the healthcare system's load. In the past two decades, a variety of over-the-counter, noninvasive home-use PBM devices have been developed for cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. Homeuse devices allow patients to remain at their homes, which frequently turns out to be much more affordable than hospitalization or multiple ambulatory clinic visits. However, appropriate evaluation of consumer PBM devices' efficacy and benefits requires additional, randomized, adequately powered, controlled studies set up by the relevant commercial and scientific institutions. I am genuinely looking forward to what the future of PBMT might bring. 

How has your involvement in ASLMS contributed to your career? Why should young researchers become involved with ASLMS?
In 2017 the ASLMS story started, and it led to a lot of research, educational and career-related opportunities. As such, I presented the first results of my Ph.D. at the ASLMS conference in San Diego (CA, USA). I was honored to receive an award for my presentation at the “Best of ESLD Laser and EBD Medicine for Breast Cancer Patients Session.” For the virtual ASLMS conference of 2021, I have three oral presentations and I have the opportunity to develop together with Dr. Lanzafame an Online Learning Course on Photobiomodulation Developments in Clinical Applications. Via my role as ASLMS Early-Career Scientist Student Board Representative, I hope to encourage young scientists, fellows, and residents to join the ASLMS and share their knowledge in the field of laser and PBMT research. I want to promote laser medicine, especially the use of PBMT under the existing and new ASLMS members, and represent early-career professionals' interests to the ASLMS governing board. Further, I would like to promote education for early career professionals under the mentorship programs of ASLMS. ASLMS has a lot to offer for young scientists in light and energy-based technologies.

  1. ASLMS offers free membership for medical students, residents, undergraduate and graduate students, fellows–in–training, and postdoctoral fellows for their training duration.
  2. The annual ASLMS conference is an outstanding learning and networking opportunity for young researchers. The ASLMS offers them educational scholarships, discounted conference registration fees, and hands out specific abstract awards.
  3. ASLMS has an Online Learning Center which is freely accessible for ASLMS members. The Online Learning Center provides access to courses, live and recorded webinars, pre-recorded presentations, plus video and podcast interviews.
  4. ASLMS has a new mentorship program (AMP). The AMP is designed to connect residents and early career members with more senior members of the society to work on a specific project over one year and build relationships.
  5. ASLMS has a preceptorship program to learn new techniques and perspectives in lasers and other energy-based technologies.
  6. ASLMS has a Visiting Expert Program that matches laser and energy-based device experts with educational institutions to provide lectures on cutting edge research, device innovations, best practices, complications, and safety.
  7. ASLMS members have free access to Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, the official ASLMS journal, including monthly journal clubs.
  8. ASLMS offers yearly Research Grants to stimulate research in the field of energy-based devices.
  9. ASLMS provides a wide variety of networking opportunities via the annual meeting, social media, and the ASLMS website.
  10. Young researchers can become student board representatives at the ASLMS, which offers practical non-profit, non-voting board leadership experience and opportunities to receive mentoring from established leaders.

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