Plaster cure for cancer

2 min read

Researchers at the University of St Andrews and Ninewells Hospital, Dundee have developed a new light-emitting “sticking plaster” for use in the treatment of skin cancer.

The new device, which builds on photodynamic therapy, reduces pain. Its developers claim it also has potential to be used by patients in their own home.

The breakthrough, a portable lightweight light source powered by a pocket-sized battery, is the idea of St Andrews’ physicist Professor Ifor Samuel, and dermatology consultant Professor James Ferguson, head of the photobiology unit at Ninewells Hospital Dundee.

The pair teamed up four years ago to combine their expertise in photo-physics and photodynamic therapy to create a new way of treating skin cancer. The result is a “light bandage” that contains its own light source and is so portable that patients can go about their daily business while under treatment.

Professor Samuel said: ‘By adapting the latest technology to an existing treatment method, we have developed a compact light source for treating common skin cancers. It can be worn by the patient in a similar way to a sticking plaster, while the battery is carried like an iPod.’

The light is generated by an organic light-emitting diode, (OLED) and is a spin-off of Professor Samuel’s work on advanced displays. ‘It’s very exciting to be have developed a new technology that helps treat skin cancer patients,’ he said.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘This new device will have a major impact on the treatment of skin cancers. The light-emitting patch is a low- cost, portable and convenient method of treatment. Our initial pilot trials have already shown its effectiveness and we find patients requesting this treatment over conventional methods.’

The new approach is said to be much more convenient and comfortable than conventional methods as lower light levels are used (reducing pain), and the patient can move around during treatment. The introduction of this product will mean that more patients can be treated, and opens up the possibility of treatment at GPs surgeries or at home.

The patented technology was developed with support from Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept funding and has been licensed to Lumicure, which is currently in discussions with venture capitalists to raise equity funds to commercialise the product.

Skin cancer is a major and rapidly growing problem in the UK. It is estimated that around ten per cent of Scotland's population will suffer from the disease at some point in their lifetimes.

In addition to the treatment of skin cancers, the researchers believe that the technology could also be used in the cosmetic industry, for anti-aging treatments or for conditions such as acne.