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CIHR Skin Research Training Centre
Photomedicine Institute

Photomedicine Institute

The Photomedicine Institute is dedicated to harnessing the energy of light to obtain diagnostic information about the skin as well to treat the skin. From an optical point of view, the skin is an inhomogeneous, multi-layered, turbid medium. When light interacts with tissue, it is scattered and absorbed, and the tissue may produce fluorescence. These interactions and the optical properties of tissue determine the distribution of incoming light on the tissue, which is critical for generating biological effects and therapeutic applications. On the other hand, the optical properties and the effects of tissue on light are determined by the chemical composition, morphological structure, and physiological state of the tissue. Therefore, pathological changes in tissue affect the re-emitted optical signals detected when a beam of light is used to illuminate the skin.
Light based measurements of skin have the potential to improve non-invasive clinical diagnosis of various skin conditions including skin cancer. It may also lead to non-invasive assessment of treatment progress. We are currently exploring a couple of different types of optical measurement modalities for skin diagnosis:
  • Diffuse Reflectance Spectroscopy and Multi-spectral Imaging, which explores elastic light scattering and light absorption by skin chromophores such as melanin, hemoglobin, bilirubin, and water.
  • Fluorescence Spectroscopy and Imaging, which explore molecular electronic energy transition-related light emission of certain cutaneous molecules such as tyrosine, tryptophan, NADH, collagen, and elastin.
  • Raman Spectroscopy, which explores inelastic light scattering to give fingerprint-like spectral signatures of molecular vibrations. Molecules in skin that have unique Raman signatures include proteins, DNA, lipids, glucose, and melanin.
  • In-Vivo Confocal Microscopy, which provides sectional images of the skin at micron spatial resolution, allowing us to visualize cellular structures and micro- circulation in real time on living skin. Imaging mechanisms we are exploring include elastic scattering (reflectance), two-photon excitation fluorescence (TPEF), and second harmonic generation (SHG).
  • Laser Speckle Imaging, which analyzes interference patterns from light reflectedoff skin surfaces.
  • Nanophotonics involves the application of nanotechnologies to enhance light-tissue interactions for diagnostic and therapeutic applications: e.g. using metal nanoparticle based SERS (surface enhanced Raman scattering) spectroscopy for diagnostics and developing nanoparticle based photothermal therapy.
Light of different wavelengths, intensities, and pulse widths can be harnessed to treat various skin conditions such as skin cancer, psoriasis, and port wine stains. We are currently working on the following four types of phototherapies:
  • Ultraviolet Phototherapy
  • Laser Surgery
  • Photodynamic Therapy
  • Two-Photon Excitation




Dr. Harvey Lui, Director, Photomedicine Institute
Dr. Haishan Zeng
Dr. David McLean
Dr. Tim Lee
Dr. Sunil Kalia


Vancouver General Hospital Research Pavilion, The Skin Care Centre, BC Cancer Research Centre


Dr. Jianxin Chen, Fujian Normal University, China
Dr. Naiyan Huang, PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China


Dr. Michael Chen, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University


Dr. Lioudmila Tchvialeva
Dr. Jianhua Zhao


Soodabeh Zandi


Dr. Anthony Lee


Ms. Tracy Wang
Mr. Paul Wighton
Mr. Edward Yu
Mr. Shuang Wang (Visiting)


Mr. Wei Zhang


Diffuse reflectance spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, fluorescence imaging, Raman spectroscopy, in vivo confocal microscopy, pulsed lasers, speckle analysis, computer image analysis


  1. Zhao J, Lui H, McLean DI, Zeng H. Integrated real-time Raman system for clinical in vivo skin analysis. Skin Res Technol 2008 (in press).
  2. Zhao J, Lui H, McLean DI, Zeng H. Automated autofluorescence background subtraction algorithm for biomedical Raman spectroscopy. Appl Spectroscopy 2007; 61:1225-32.
  3. Zhao J, Lui H, McLean DI, Zeng H. Towards instrument independent quantitative measurement of fluorescence intensity in fiber optic spectrometer systems. Appl Optics 2007; 46:7132-40.
  4. Chen R, Huang Z, Lui H, Hamzavi I, McLean DI, Xie S Zeng H. Monte Carlo simulation of cutaneous reflectance and fluorescence measurements—the effect of melanin contents and localization, Journal Photochem Photobiol B: Biol 2007; 86:219-226.
  5. Short MA, Lui H, McLean DI, Zeng H, Alajlan A, Chen XK. Demonstrating changes in nuclei and peritumoral collagen within nodular basal cell carcinomas via confocal micro-Raman spectroscopy. J Biomed Optics 2006; 11:034004.
  6. Huang Z, Zeng H, Hamzavi I, Alajlan A, Tan E, McLean DI, Lui H. Cutaneous melanin exhibits fluorescence emission under near-infrared light excitation. J Biomed Optics 2006; 11 (DOI:10.1117/1.2204007).
  7. Lau, D.P., Huang, Z., Lui, H., Anderson, D.W, Berean, K., Morrison, M. D., Liang, S., Zeng, H.: Raman Spectroscopy for Optical Diagnosis in the Larynx – Preliminary Findings. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 37: 192-200, 2005.
  8. Hamzavi, I.,Shiff, N., Martinka, M., Huang, Z., McLean, DI., Zeng, H., Lui, H.: Spectroscopic Assessment of Dermal Melanin using Blue Vitiligo as an in vivo Model, Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, 22:46-51, 2006
  9. Huang, Z, Lui, H., McLean, DI, Korbelik, Zeng, H: Raman Spectroscopy in Combination with Background Near-Infrared Autofluorescence Enhances the In Vivo Assessment of Malignant Tissues. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 81: 1219-1226, 2005
  10. Hamzavi, I.,Jain, H., McLean, D.I., Shapiro, J., Zeng, H., Lui, H.: Parametric Modelling of Narrow Band UV-B Phototherapy for Vitiligo Using a Novel Quantitative Tool, Arch. Dermatol. 140: 677-683, 2004
  11. Huang, Z, Lui H, Chen MXK, McLean DI, Zeng, H.: Raman Spectroscopy of In Vivo Cutaneous Melanin. J. of Biomedical Optics, 9(6):1198-1205, 2004.
  12. Huang, Z.., Zheng, W., Xie, S., Chen, R., Zeng, H., McLean, D.I., Lui, H.: Laser-induced autofluorescence microscopy of normal and tumor colonic tissue, Intl. J. of Oncology, 24: 59-64, 2004.
  13. Huang, Z., McWilliams, A., Lui, H., McLean, D.I., Lam, S., Zeng, H. Near-infrared Raman Spectroscopy for Optical Diagnosis of Lung Cancer, Intl J of Cancer, 107(6): 1047-1052, 2003.
  14. Huang, Z., McWilliams, A., Lam, S., English, J. McLean, D.I., Lui, H. Zeng, H. Effect of Formalin Fixation on the Near-Infrared Raman Spectroscopy of Human Bronchial Tissues, Intl. J. of Oncology, 23: 649-656, 2003.
  15. Lau, D.P., Huang, Z., Lui, H., Man, C.S., Berean, K., Morrison, M.D., Zeng, H.: Raman spectroscopy for optical diagnosis in normal and cancerous tissue of the nasopharynx - preliminary findings. Lasers in Medicine and Surgery 32(3), 210-214, 2003.
  16. Zeng, H., Korbelik, M., McLean, D.I., MacAulay, C., Lui, H.: Monitoring photoproduct formation and photobleaching by fluorescence spectropscopy has the potential to improve PDT dosimetry with a verteporfin-like photosensitizer. Photochemistry and Photobiology 75(4), 398-405, 2002.
  17. Huang, Z. Zeng, H., Hamzavi, I., McLean, D.I., and Lui, H.: A rapid near-infrared Raman spectroscopy system for real-time in vivo skin measurements. Optics Letters 26(22):1782-1784, 2001.
  18. Bissonnette, R., Zeng, H., Korbelik, M., McLean, D.I., Lui, H.: Oral aminolevulinic acid induces protoporphyrin IX fluorescence in psoriatic. Photochemistry and Photobiology 74(2);339-345, 2001.
  19. Huang, Z. Zeng, H., Hamzavi, I., McLean, D.I., and Lui, H.: A rapid near-infrared Raman spectroscopy system for real-time in vivo skin measurements. Optics Letters 26(22):1782-1784, 2001.
  20. Bissonnette, R., Zeng, H., Korbelik, M., McLean, D.I., Lui, H.: Oral aminolevulinic acid induces protoporphyrin IX fluorescence in psoriatic. Photochemistry and Photobiology 74(2);339-345, 2001.

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