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Wearable light source treats skin cancer and acne

Research into light-emitting diodes has led to the creation of a compact wearable light source which provides a safe and convenient way to treat skin cancer and acne.

Read the full REF submission

Skin cancer is often treatable through a process called photodynamic therapy, where light-sensitive cream is applied to a lesion and then illuminated by a powerful light source (often a laser) which destroys abnormal cells. However, this procedure requires patients to spend the entire day at the hospital and can often be a painful process. In addition, the process requires specialised equipment that is only available at relatively few centres across the UK (there are only seven in Scotland).

To try and solve this problem, Professor Ifor Samuel from the School of Physics and Astronomy at St Andrews discussed the issues of photodynamic therapy with Professor Ferguson, Head of Photobiology at Ninewells Hospital, and together they came up with the idea of using a wearable and disposable light source instead of the bulky and expensive hospital-based light sources.

Since 2000, Professor Samuel worked alongside researchers from PHYESTA – a world-class physics and astronomy research centre pulling expertise from the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh – to understand, develop and improve organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which are super light, thin, flexible, and compact visible light sources.

Their research led to the creation of wearable light sources using OLED technology. These demonstrator devices were made in St Andrews and funded by a grant from Scottish Enterprise; they were then evaluated at Ninewells Hospital. In a pilot trial, the devices were tested on eight patients with Bowen’s disease (an early form of skin cancer) and four patients with superficial basal cell carcinoma (another type of skin cancer). Two treatments were administered one month apart. At the 12-month follow-up, 7 of the 12 patients remained clear, and all patients scored their pain during and immediately after treatment as less than 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. The study showed that OLED photodynamic therapy was less painful than conventional photodynamic therapy with the added advantage of being lightweight, and therefore potentially suitable for home-based therapy.


  • Product reach: two products were developed as a result of this research (Ambulight – a skin cancer treatment product, and Lustre – an acne treatment product) which are now sold in all EU countries as well as Australia.

  • Healthcare benefits: the Ambulight device provides a convenient and comfortable treatment which overcomes limitations to the number of patients who can be treated per session and significantly reduces pain. It also reduces the amount of input from hospital staff so that the throughput and efficiency of photodynamic therapy clinics can be increased.

  • Economic growth: a spin-out company, Ambicare Health Ltd, was formed to address the expensive and time consuming process of achieving regulatory approval and manufacture for the devices. Over £2m of venture capital was raised from the spin-out at the start of 2008.


  • The Beilby Medal and Prize was awarded to Professor Samuel by the Institute of Materials, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society for the Chemical Industry for materials research of exceptional practical significance.
  • The Academic R&D Award was awarded to the Organic Semiconductor Centre by Printed Electronics USA for the practical significance of the research.

Thursday 7 June 2018

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  • Attili, S, Lesar, A, McNeill, A, Camacho-Lopez, M, Moseley, H, Ibbotson, S, Samuel, I, and Ferguson, J, “An open pilot study of ambulatory photodynamic therapy using a wearable low-irradiance organic light-emitting diode light source in the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer”, British Journal of Dermatology, 161, p.170 (2009), DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09096.x
  • Lo, S, Male, N, Markham, J, Magennis, S, Burn, P, Salata, O, and Samuel, I, “A green phosphorescent dendrimer for light-emitting diodes”, Advanced Materials, 14, p. 975 (2002) DOI: 10.1002/1521-4095(20020705)14:13/14<975::AID-ADMA975>3.0.CO;2-D
  • Markham, J, Lo, S, Magennis, S, Burn, P, and Samuel, I, “High-efficiency green phosphorescence from spin-coated single-layer dendrimer light-emitting diodes”, Applied Physics Letters 80, p. 2645, (2002), DOI: 10.1063/1.1469218
  • Moseley, H, Allen, J, Ibbotson, S, Lesar, A, McNeill, A, Camacho-Lopez, M, Samuel, I, Sibbett, W, and Ferguson, J, “Ambulatory photodynamic therapy: A new concept in delivering photodynamic therapy”, British Journal of Dermatology, 154, p. 747 (2006), DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2006.07145.x
  • Samuel, I, and Ferguson, J, “Therapeutic light-emitting device”, UK patent application GB20010027581 filed 17 November 2001 and associated international applications.
  • Samuel, I, Ferguson, J, and McNeill, A, “Light-emitting device for use in Therapeutic and/or Cosmetic Treatment” UK patent application GB20060008315 filed 27 June 2006 and associated international applications.

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