Light can be used to image, diagnose and treat illness. At the National Centre for Healthcare Photonics the expanding field of healthcare photonics will combine physics and medicine for dazzling new technologies to help cure disease.
Phototherapies have been around for years but a new National Centre for Healthcare Photonics (NCHP) will capitalise on the latest light technologies in medicine. Using light to treat skin diseases and cancers is well acknowledged, but in the past few years the channelling of light into rapid imaging technology such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) or ‘optical tweezers’ to handle cells and even inject drugs or DNA into cells has been the aim of the developing biophotonics or healthcare photonics field.
OCT uses light pulses rather than magnetism (MRI) or sound waves (ultrasound) making it potentially the fastest 3D medical imaging method available. Using OCT catheters inside the arteries allows cardiologists to more accurately image and treat coronary artery disease. In photodynamic therapies the properties of light or light sensitive drugs are used to treat disease, for instance stomach cancer could be treated using a light scope passed into the gullet to activate drugs and kill cancerous cells.
NETPark in Durham will be the home of the NCHP and one company at the technology park – PolyPhotonix – is one of a number in the region creating biophotonic technology. PolyPhotonix has designed a sleep mask that uses phototherapy principles to treat diabetic retinopathy, a disease caused by diabetes that can lead to blindness. It is hoped the mask could save the NHS millions of pounds in treatment costs every year.
The UK Centre for Process Innovation will build the new photonics centre by 2017 using £10m of government funding and plans to open up its expertise to research start-ups from academia, small and large established technology companies, to help them create next generation healthcare products.