Lamp lights the way to skin cancer cure

Glenda Cooper
Monday 01 April 1996 23:02

A lamp, no bigger than a household toaster, has been used to kill cancer cells successfully, a cancer charity said yesterday.

The device, invented by Dr Colin Whitehurst at the Paterson Institute in Manchester, emits an intense arc of light directed on the affected area and has so far successfully treated 150 trial patients with early skin cancer.

Dr Whitehurst, who works for the Cancer Research Campaign's department of experimental radiation oncology, has spent more than five years developing photodynamic therapy [PDT].

The target area is pre-treated with a photosensitive drug which is activated by the light. Patients are able to read a book or relax while having the treatment, which is entirely painless. "PDT involves spreading a special cream on certain skin cancers which is taken up by the cancer cells. These cells are then killed by light from the new light source," said Dr Whitehurst.

The new lamp is 20 times cheaper to buy or operate than conventional lasers. "The therapeutic effect of our light source, based on pre-clinical and patient tests, has been shown to be the same as or in some cases an improvement over certain lasers." Dr Whitehurst said.

Clinical trials are presently going on at the Glasgow Western infirmary and Cookridge hospital, Leeds. Tests have been done on patients with early skin cancer [Bowen's disease] and so-called "rodent ulcers" [basal cell carcinomas] - the most common type of skin cancer in Britain.

To date 180 pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions have been treated and completely cleared. In Bowen's disease the lamp was shown to compare very favourably with the best current clinical practice and little if no scarring or side-effects have been noted, the charity said. Doctors have been encouraged by the results and are subsequently planning tests for brain, breast, gullet, prostate, bowel and gynaecological cancers as well as the skin disease psoriasis.

Professor Gordon McVie, who took up the post of director general of the CRC yesterday said: "This treatment for skin conditions can be applied on an outpatient basis and is both effective and people-friendly and is already being used in Glasgow and Leeds with convincing results.

"This is truly a remarkable invention which we believe will make a vital contribution to the way other important cancers are treated."

However, the charity admits that more research is still needed. PDT is currently not effective for melanoma nor for deeply spreading tumours.

"Although more research is required to define its place in cancer therapy, PDT using the new light looks to be a useful new weapon in the battle against cancer," said Dr Colin Morton, who has helped to conduct the trials at Glasgow's Western infirmary.

CRC Technology, the Cancer Research Campaign's technology transfer arm, has filed a patent application to safeguard the invention.

Deals are expected to be announced shortly with American and UK-based companies to further develop the lamp for the international market.

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