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Boston Herald — Doctors fine tune laser to attack psoriasis

By Franci Richardson

Harvard wizards have invented a “laser wand” that promises to zap away the stubbornly itchy skin disease of psoriasis five times faster than the traditional ultraviolet treatment, according to a study released yesterday.

“Using a local applicator with a higher dose (of light), we think we can get the treatments down (from 35 to 60) to about a half a dozen,” said Dr. Rox Anderson, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who co-authored the study.

Published yesterday in the Archives of Dermatology, the study found the psoriasis in 13 patients cleared or was sent into remission for “moderately long” period of time, averaging 6 1/2 months.

Led by MGH Dr. Charles Taylor, who heads the hospital’s Psoriasis Phototherapy Center, the team of Harvard and MGH researchers have reduced the size of a laser from one equal to half a refrigerator down to a handheld wand-like applicator.

This gives doctors the ability to better isolate infected areas.

Kevin Guyette, 26, of Brookline has taken pills, applied expensive creams and soaked up his share of medicinal rays in the traditional ultraviolet radiated “tanning beds,” hoping to alleviate his problem of eight years.

Yesterday, when he heard about a new cure, he was optimistic but cautious.

“That sounds great, if it really works,” said Guyette, noting that 75 to 80 percent of his body flakes. “Things have sounded great before.”

Doctors have long applied ultraviolet treatment to a patient’s entire body, at lower levels of radiation.

The new device, which will work best on psoriasis isolated on areas such as the knees and elbows, allows doctors to zap the psoriasis for longer times at higher levels, Anderson said.

“It’s not so much that it’s a laser but that it’s a narrow band of light powerful enough to use for local treatment,” he said.

Psoriasis attacks nearly one in 30 people, mostly within the white population.

Areas of psoriasis have skin growing 10 times faster than normal, so it piles up over older skin.

The piles turn uncomfortably itchy and red, bleeding and flaking easily.

“It’s like you’re shedding skin all the time,” Anderson said.

“It’s a major nuisance and social problem because it just doesn’t look good. These people wake up with skin all over their bed.”