Bright idea of sticky plaster that can beat skin cancer

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Ifor Samuel (courtesy of Scotsman.com)SCOTTISH scientists have invented a light-emitting "sticking plaster" for treating skin cancer which could revolutionise the way the disease is treated.

The high-tech patch is operated by a pocket-sized battery and could allow patients to receive treatment at home or at a GP surgery instead of undergoing lengthy hospital visits.

Current skin cancer treatment can involve surgical removal of lesions, with associated scarring and risk of infection.

The latest technology is an adaptation of photodynamic therapy treatment (PDT) already available to skin cancer patients.

During PDT, the affected area of skin is covered with a light- sensitive anti-cancer cream, which is activated by controlled exposure to a light source.

However, existing systems use large, cumbersome and intense light sources in hospital, involving the patient having to sit still for several hours.

The "sticking plaster" does the same job, but is small, light and portable. The device, which could be available in two years, lessens the pain associated with conventional treatment and will allow more patients to receive therapy.

The plaster was designed by Professor Ifor Samuel, a physicist from St Andrews University, and Professor James Ferguson, head of photobiology at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, who teamed up four years ago to tackle the disease.

Prof 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."

Prof Ferguson, said: "This device will have a major impact on 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 patients are requesting this treatment over conventional methods.

"You can have more than one plaster on at a time, covering multiple areas of affected skin. We have tried it on more than 20 patients so far and the results are comparable with standard hospital photodynamic treatment."

Like other forms of photo- dynamic therapy, the "sticking plaster" treatment is suitable only for less serious non-melanoma cancers near the surface of the skin. More dangerous, deeper melanoma skin cancer has to be treated with surgery, radiotherapy and, sometimes, chemotherapy.

Josephine Querido, science information officer with Cancer Research UK, welcomed the research.

"The results of this small study are promising," she said. "Treatment with this novel sticking plaster technology was as effective as conventional photo- dynamic therapy in the 22 patients treated, but it will need to be tested in larger numbers of patients before it becomes freely available in the clinic."

Around 60,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer.

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