The pioneering laser treatment is giving Kim Phuc a new lease of life after treating the burns she received in the 1972 Vietnam War with help from a device manufactured and developed in Kent.
Last month, the 52-year-old war victim flew from her home in Canada to Miami to begin a complex series of procedures to reduce the appearance and tenderness of her scars.
The treatment was devised by Dr Jill Waibel, who called upon the help of Maidstone firm Michelson Diagnostics after a chance meeting in San Francisco earlier this year at the American Academy of Dermatology.
The company manufactures a device called the VivoSight, an infrared scanner which allows doctors to see 2mm under the skin.
It was designed as a way to help doctors diagnose skin cancer without the need to put patients through a painful biopsy. As soon as bosses showed Dr Waibel the device, she lit up.
“We showed her our scanner and she said it was incredible and that she could see an immediate use for the system,” said Andy Hill, chief executive of Michelson Diagnostics.
The VivoSight allowed Dr Waibel to carry out her laser treatment for Kim Phuc’s scarring more effectively by seeing how deep the scarring was under her skin and adjusting the laser accordingly.
“It is the start of a very long series of treatments for Kim but the work has done an enormous amount to help stop the pain,” said Mr Hill, who joined the company in February.
Since then, the firm has developed more than 100 different possible uses for the VivoSight.
It was developed after five scientists were made redundant from Sira in 2006 and decided to pool their redundancy money to launch a company which could develop their idea for an infrared scanner.
In April the company moved from its base in Orpington to Eclipse Park, Maidstone, where it is able to make five devices a month. The move was brokered by Locate in Kent and funded after the firm received a £350,000 interest-free loan through the Escalate scheme run by Kent County Council.
“The company is at a really exciting point,” said Mr Hill. “My remit is to take the company from a research and development business and turn it into a commercial organisation.” Mr Hill is aiming to raise £10m of investment and wants to expand the firm’s customer base into Germany.
He eventually hopes to take the company public and list it on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange.
At present his days are taken up with meetings with rich investors and venture capital funds, many of which are in advanced discussions. The firm employs 17 people and aims to employ “considerably more” around Maidstone and in the US once its funding round is complete. Mr Hill said: “I don’t think the company’s founders realised the opportunity for the technology to be as big as it has turned out to be.
“Diagnosing skin cancer is a sizeable market but this can also be applied to cosmetic surgery. It’s a revolutionary method of diagnosing patients with skin disorders.”
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