George "Bud" Brainard, PhD


Home Institution:
Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Photobiology, Neuroscience

Current Positions:
Thomas Jefferson University

  • »
    Director, Light Research Program
  • »
    Professor of Neurology

What is the impact of light and color on human health?

Scholar Project


Over millennia, light has been recognized as the principal stimulus for the visual system. In contrast, it has only been during the past 50 years that we’ve begun to appreciate light as a potent circadian, neuroendocrine, and neurobehavioral stimulus for humans. While much has been discovered, we are still in the infancy of understanding the capacity of light to produce beneficial effects in medical applications or in people’s daily lives.

The broad goal of Dr. Brainard’s work as an Institute Scholar is to push the boundaries of research on light and human health. In his initial work, he explored the fields of quantum physics and consciousness.  He then developed a study design for a clinical trial testing a form of modern color therapy. That study design uses a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled study on patients with chronic pain. The trial has the potential to add important data to long-standing questions about the efficacy of this therapeutic approach.

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Dr. Brainard is currently conducting a controlled pilot study on the effect of light wavelengths on human prostate cancer tumorigenesis. This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board, and is being performed collaboratively between Jefferson Medical College and Tulane School of Medicine. Expected outcomes of the pilot research would have public health significance and could lead to the development of preventative strategies involving outdoor night lighting and the illumination of building interiors. 



For more than 30 years, George Brainard, PhD, has studied the effects of light on the biology and behavior of animals and humans. His research has been widely supported by public, industrial, and private sources. He has published more than 100 original research articles, authored more than 50 book chapters, and edited or co-written nine books or monographs, including four lighting standards for the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

Dr. Brainard has been the US Division Six director for the International Commission on Illumination (USNC/CIE) since 1992, chaired the IESNA Photobiology Committee for 10 years, and is currently chair of the IESNA Light and Health Committee.

His research team has developed and tested advanced lighting designs for treating patients with winter depression.

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In 2014, Dr. Brainard and his collaborators were honored with the NASA Johnson Space Center Director's Innovation Award for their contributions to a new lighting system for the International Space Station and other future space habitats. This system is intended to provide lighting countermeasures for health risks for astronauts and ground crew during space flight missions,

Over the years he has received numerous national and international honors for teaching and research.  During his years as a TIIH Scholar, he received the Research Award from the Professional Lighting Design Convention (Copenhagen, 2013), the Outstanding Researcher Award from the Astronomical League (Chicago, 2012) and the Research Award for Excellence on Photobiology, Photochemistry and Photophysics from the American Society for Photobiology (Providence, 2010).

During his career, Dr. Brainard has taught neuroanatomy and neurophysiology to more than 7,000 medical and graduate students. He is a recipient of the Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.



Education & Training

Postdoctoral fellow, neurology, Thomas Jefferson University

Postdoctoral fellow, psychiatry, Oregon Health Sciences University

PhD, anatomy, University of Texas Health Science Center

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MA, psychology, Goddard College

BA, psychology, Wesleyan University


Selected Honors

NASA Johnson Space Center Director's Innovation Award, 2014

Research Award, Professional Lighting Design Convention, 2013

Outstanding Researcher Award, The Astronomical League, 2012

Research Award for Excellence on Photobiology, Photochemistry and Photophysics, American Society for Photobiology, 2010

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Jefferson Medical College Student Award for Professionalism, 2010

Thomas Jefferson University Research Performance Award, 2007, 2008

Jefferson Medical College Dean's Award for Distinguished Basic Science Teaching, 1997, 2002

Painted portrait dedicated to Jefferson Medical College by Graduating Class, 1989


Selected Publications

Book Chapter

Co-author, Seasonal Affective Disorder, in Therapy in Sleep Medicine, 2012.

Research Papers

Solid-state lighting for the International Space Station:  tests of visual performance and melatonin regulation.
Acta Astronautica, November 2013

Adverse health effects of nighttime lighting.
American Journal of Preventative Medicine, September 2013

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Effects of spectral transmittance through standard laboratory cages on circadian metabolism and physiology in nude rats.
Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, March 2013

Insulin and IGF1 enhance IL-17-induced chemokine expression through a GSK3B dependent mechanism: a new target for melatonin's anti-inflammatory action.
Journal of Pineal Research, November 2013

Changes in cerebral blood flow and anxiety associated with an eight week mindfulness program in women with breast cancer.
Stress and Health, December 2012

Circadian gating of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer cells via
melatonin-regulation of GSK3.
Molecular Endocrinology, November 2012

The devil is in the third year: a longitudinal study of erosion of empathy in medical school.
Academic Medicine, September 2009

Integrative medicine research at an academic medical center: patient characteristics and health-related quality-of-life outcomes.
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008

Light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder with blue narrow-band light-emitting diodes.
Biological Psychiatry, March 2006

Photons, clocks and consciousness.
Journal of Biological Rhythms, August 2005

Melatonin-depleted blood from premenopausal women exposed to light at night stimulates growth of human breast cancer xenografts in nude rats.
Cancer Research, December 2005

Action spectrum for melatonin regulation in humans:  evidence for a novel circadian photoreceptor.
Journal of Neuroscience, August 2001

See articles & papers on PubMed