This year, 2016, marks my 30th year since I started in medical lasers, in Canniesburn Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit, Glasgow, Scotland. This is a brief summary of my journey to date…
I had joined the Bioengineering Unit in Strathclyde University after finishing my physics/astronomy degree at the University of Glasgow in 1984. Originally, I had intended to do the M.Sc. course but later converted to doing a Ph.D.
After a year in the Unit I was asked to join the medical laser research group – this group was responsible for developing the first application of the Q-switched ruby laser in the scar-free removal of tattoos.
This is me pretending to use the ruby laser in Canniesburn hospital in 1987. The picture on the right shows the size of the laser we used for the original clinical research program.
We published our results in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery in 1990.
In that same year we started the original Dermalase company in Glasgow to offer the scar-free laser tattoo removal treatment commercially – the first such clinic in the world! Soon after we began to sell the Dermalase DLR1 laser (see above) to doctors in the UK, then the USA shortly after, then across the world, with a strong presence in South East Asia.
In the Asian countries the interest from the medical community was not for tattoo removal – rather they were keen to try it our on benign pigmented lesions which occur frequently in Asian skin.
We soon developed experience in the removal of these lesions using the Q-switched ruby laser and published our initial results in the Singaporean Annals, Academy of Medicine journal in 1993.
Consequently, we sold lasers in both Asia and the US for the removal of pigmented lesions. Around this time we started to investigate the use of the Q-switched Nd:YAG laser for the treatment of tattoos and pigmented lesions. This resulted in the launch of the Dermalase DLY1 laser in 1995.
Unfortunately, I did not submit my Ph.D. thesis as I was not happy with it at the time. My company, Dermalase was growing so fast that I put my studies behind me and concentrated on growing the business.
In 1993 I was approached by an inventor from Sweden called Morgan Gustafsson. He was developing the world’s first IPL system and needed financial and technical support from Dermalase. We joined in his efforts to produce this unit which was first presented at a medical show in Stockholm in 1994. In 1999 I launched the world’s first commercial IPL system designed for the beauty market into the UK, for the removal of hair – the Plasmalite.
Unfortunately, in 1996 Dermalase Ltd went bust thanks to poor management in the US subsidiary. But hey, that’s life!
I spent the following years working with a number of companies and colleagues in the sales and marketing of various laser systems around the world. I also worked in the development of an electronic pain-relief device using software controlled impulses. In 2011 I started the ‘new’ Dermalase Training Services to offer various courses to medical and aesthetic professionals.
A year later I tried a wee experiment with a microscope glass slide compressed on the skin above tattoos to see if this might accelerate the whole process. I never found out it does or not because my patients immediately reported a reduction in the pain sensations they felt during the treatment.
I then decided to focus on the pain-relief side of this experiment and tested this technique on 133 tattoos. I found that patients reported up to a 50% reduction in pain when using the glass slide compared to without. I also noted a reduction in punctate bleeding, swelling and epidermal damage.
I noticed that there were ‘pit’ marks on one of the glass slides after using it for a tattoo treatment. At first I thought they were caused by the action of the laser energy on the glass – I soon ruled that out with a quick test on fresh slides.
I borrowed an optical microscope and quickly learned how to use it. Using an Apple iPhone5 I took a bunch of photographs of what I discovered:
For more images click here.
These are fragments of ink which have been ejected from the skin during the laser treatment and been embedded into the glass.
I suspect that viable portions of bacteria might also be flying out of the skin at high speed during laser treatment. I am investigating this suspicion at the moment…
In 2014 I joined the Association of Laser Safety Professional and became a certified Laser Protection Adviser.
As part of my LPA duties I visit medical/aesthetic centres and check that they are complying with the regulations governing the safe use of lasers. I also train candidates to become Laser Safety Officers.
During the last few years I picked up my original Ph.D. theoretical studies into laser-tissue interactions and started working with Per-Arne Torstensson in Gothenburg, Sweden.
We submitted two reports at the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery conference in Boston, 2016. Both were deemed to be in the ‘top ten’ of presentations for that year, and they requested written versions for publication in their journal, Lasers in Medicine and Surgery. We are currently writing these reports and hope to publish them soon.
In the meantime, we are continuing our studies into laser-tissue interactions in skin and intend to present more work at conference and to publish further reports.
I also play in a rock ‘n’ roll band for fun…
The rest is, as they say, history!