Photobiology and Optical Physics

The service supports the clinical work in the Photobiology Unit and in several other fields where Non-Ionising Radiation is utilised.

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Photobiology & Optical Physics or Non-Ionising Radiation (NIR) and Photobiology, to give it its full title covers a wide range of the spectrum from ultraviolet (UV) through visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio frequency. It also includes lasers.  The service exists to support the clinical work in the Photobiology Unit and in several other fields where NIR is utilised.

Scientific and technical staff are based in the Photobiology Unit as part of a multi-disciplinary team. This is a national referral centre for the treatment and diagnosis of UV-associated skin disorders. Patients are examined by dermatologists and then undergo a series of tests to determine to which part of the spectrum they are sensitive. Their skin may be pre-sensitised by a series of chemicals, as a diagnostic aid. The technicians maintain sensitive optical instruments and ensure their proper calibration. They also carry out the testing on the patients and are well-suited for this because of their specialist knowledge. Phototoxicity testing is conducted by the physics staff, to ascertain whether drug preparations render the patient susceptible to light damage.

One of the so-called photo-dermatoses, polymorphic light eruption, is estimated to affect some 10% of the population. Severe cases erupt regularly in springtime and patients' lifestyles may be significantly affected. Some success has been achieved in treating these cases in the Photobiology Unit. Other conditions, psoriasis, for example, are treated using UV in the Unit.

Research and Teaching Interests

Many trials are undertaken to optimise treatment schedules and improve patient care. Also, basic research is performed in an attempt to understand the basic mechanisms underlying skin disease.

As well as direct patient care and research, the service is also very active on the educational front. It runs courses for medical and nursing staff, and staff help to organise and address meetings elsewhere. The service recognises its public responsibility and participates in Sun Awareness programmes in an attempt to reduce skin cancer incidence.

Non-ionising Radiation extends to many specialities. Within Medical Physics, the head of the section collaborates with Instrumentation and Radiation Protection as appropriate. Safety advice is given to users. This ensures compliance with any necessary legislation, and expert advice to enable surgeons to carry out procedures with minimum risk to patients and staff. In the field of laser therapy, a laser protection advisory service, as required by the Department of Health is provided by Medical Physics.