Clinical Photobiology

Clinical Photobiology is located on the site of the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, with an office in the Knowledge Spa, and experimental facilities at the University of Exeter's Tremough Campus in Penryn. This is the result of successful collaboration between the NHS and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. Clinical Photobiology (formerly Cornwall Dermatology Research Project) was originally formed in 1997 as a medical research organisation with charitable status, gaining support from collaborations formed with the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Cornwall College and the Duchy Health Charity.

In the summer of 2005, the group was officially incorporated into the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. The laboratory facilities enable the use of state of the art molecular biology techniques, in conjunction with aseptic cell culture, to investigate the action of a range of naturally occurring compounds in respect of the DNA damage they either create or prevent in human cells, usually in association with a light insult. This is particularly relevant to the health of the population of Cornwall, as the region exhibits one of the highest rates of skin cancer, and the highest incidence of malignant melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) in the UK. Compounds with chemical properties that prevent irradiation-induced DNA damage could potentially be incorporated into topical sunscreens to prevent this damage occurring at source, and thus may help to reduce skin cancer incidence.

Alongside the experimental research in the clinic, novel modes of treatment are being used to treat patients with non-melanoma related skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, Bowen's disease, and actinic keratoses. One such treatment is that of dermatological photodynamic therapy (PDT). In PDT, a cream containing a compound (5-aminolaevulinic acid (ALA) or Methyl Aminolevulinate (MAL)) is applied to a patient's skin on the lesion to be treated. After a period of time (3 hours) the excess cream is removed and the area is exposed to red light (wavelength 635 nm) for 7-9 minutes. The ALA in the cream is assimilated by a biosynthetic pathway (present in all nucleated cells and used to produce haem), which produces an intermediate product called protoporphryn IX (PPIX) which is light sensitive. The presence of light, PPIX and oxygen creates a volatile environment of reactive oxygen species, which ultimately leads to the death of the tumour cell.

Patients with cancer that is superficial in nature, in problematic areas or in regions where excellent cosmesis is desirable, benefit greatly from this non-invasive form of treatment. The patients are seen in the Outpatients department of the Dermatology Unit, and can be treated by trained nursing staff as well as doctors. Tumour response is fairly rapid following treatment of superficial conditions, with high levels of complete clinical clearance, however, some of the more prevalent tumours, such as nodular basal cell carcinoma, generally greater in size and depth, are more problematic to treat successfully. Clinical Photobiology is investigating the modification of standard dermatological PDT, using novel compounds, to improve treatment in patients with these types of lesions.

Other research the group is currently conducting monitors some of the less well understood aspects of the mechanisms involved during PDT, in collaboration with partners from the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter.

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Contact details:
Miss Michele Wall
Clinical Photobiology,
Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry
Knowledge Spa S10
Royal Cornwall Hospital
Tel: +44 (0)1872 256432     Fax: +44 (0)1872 256497
or visit the PCMD website


11th September 2012: Clinical Photobiology Research in the 'Media Spotlight'

5th July 2012: Researching a cellular link between radon and skin cancer

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Recent Publications

Radon and skin cancer in Southwest England: an ecologic study written by B. Wheeler, J. Allen, M. Depledge and A. Curnow

Effect of an oxygen pressure injection (OPI) device on the oxygen saturation of patients during dermatological methylaminolevulinate photodynamic therapy. written by E. Blake, J. Allen, C. Thorn, A. Shore, A. Curnow.

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Recent Presentations

A novel experimental system to expose human cultured cells to radon and its daughter products. written by A. Robertson, J. Allen, R. Laney and A. Curnow.

An in vitro comparison of the interactive effects of benzo[?]pyrene and ultraviolet radiation on mammalian and fish cells written by J. Allen, Z. Lyle, A. Jha and A. Curnow

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