Deep ultraviolet light could transform healthcare

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Deep ultraviolet light could transform healthcare

Heriot-Watt’s U-Care project has received £6.1million from UKRI-EPSRC’s 2050 Healthcare Technologies Call to develop new therapies based on the unique properties of deep ultraviolet light.

U-Care will exploit deep ultraviolet light, which doesn’t occur naturally on earth, to kill infection and guard against looming public health crises like antimicrobial resistance.

The project combines Heriot-Watt’s photonics expertise with the University of Bath’s optical fibre work and the clinical and translational healthcare technology expertise of researchers from the University of Edinburgh 

Patient groups, NHS partners, charities and industry will be central to the five-year project, helping to shape the technology and make sure it is ready for patient use. 

The U-Care team will also investigate whether deep ultraviolet light can be used to remove tissues with extreme precision, and if this could lead to breakthroughs in cancer treatment. 

Professor Robert Thomson from Heriot-Watt University said: “Some wavelengths of ultraviolet light are known for their germicidal properties, but can cause cancer in human tissues. That’s the problem we’ll solve.

“We will develop technologies that generate ultraviolet light at just the right wavelength, where the light remains germicidal but without the harmful effects. We’ll also develop technologies to deliver this light precisely, such as optical fibres to transport it into the body without causing further harm.”

The University of Bath team will develop optical fibres to deliver deep ultraviolet light into patients’ bodies. 

Professor Tim Birks from Bath said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to see the physics of optical fibres have an impact on some of the big challenges in medicine. 

“Deep ultraviolet light is difficult to handle and potentially harmful, but we will carefully design and manufacture new types of fibres to safely carry the light to the precise site inside a patient where it is needed, without any of it leaking out along the way.”

Professor Kev Dhaliwal, from the University of Edinburgh said: “Infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance are  the biggest challenges we face in modern medicine 

“We urgently need new ways of treating and preventing infections especially with approaches that microbes are unable to resist. 

“U-Care will co-create technology and methods that could prevent and treat infections in hospitalised patients, but it needs to be acceptable and comfortable for patients, that’s why we’ll be partnering with  patient groups, clinical teams, industry and healthcare charities throughout the project. 

“The second capability of precision therapy for cancers would be transformative. 

“Instead of doctors looking at scans and saying ‘sorry, we can’t do anything, because the tumour is unresectable’, or patients having to have revision operations, we could reach, visualise and resect margins of tumours with unprecedented safety and precision.

The U-Care team aims to have its first prototype ready for testing in patients within three years. 

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Sarah McDaid