Ig Nobel Prize: Honoring the most ludicrous research studies of the year

By Chrissy Sexton
Earth.com staff writer

It’s that time of the year again, when scientists gather to celebrate the unusual, quirky, and downright weird. This year’s 33rd Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, held virtually on September 14, did not disappoint.

Nostril hair earns an Ig Nobel

Other notable mentions include a team from the University of California, Irvine, who ventured into the unknown territory of counting human nostril hairs.

The goal was to determine whether there are an equal number of hairs in each nostril. “The information we needed was not available in anatomy texts, so we decided to find out on our own,” said team lead Natasha Mesinkovska.

The findings have significant implications for alopecia patients, who often lose nasal hair, which defends against allergens and infections.

Click here to read full article on Earth.com.

Ig Nobel Prizes honor zombie spiders, rock-licking scientists, and a clever commode

After 33 years, the award continues to celebrate brilliant but unusual scientific research


Why do scientists lick rocks? The answer is disappointingly sensible, says Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester. Mineral particles within rocks stand out better on a wet surface than on a dry one, so licking makes rocks easier to identify in the field. And Zalasiewicz waxes nostalgic for the days when scientists did more than just lick rocks—they cooked and, in some cases, actually ate the materials they studied, he noted in a 2017 essay written for the Paleontological Association’s newsletter. “We’ve lost the art of recognizing rocks by taste,” he laments.

For the creative rock-finding techniques described in the essay—part of a series that focuses on what he calls the “quirkier aspects of the rock and fossil world”—Zalasiewicz was one of several scientists honored during this year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, which celebrates comical and eccentric achievements in scientific research.

Zalasiewicz’s reaction to the award? “Bemused,” he says: “It’s nice that the Ig Nobel Committee liked the story.”

The annual Ig Nobel ceremony—cheekily always dubbed the “first annual” despite now being in its 33rd year—draws attention to legitimate scientific pursuits that have some unexpected or humorous aspect. The judges award 10 prizes in a variety of categories, from the traditional Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace to additional ones such as public health.

This year, the public health prize went to Stanford University urologist Seung-min Park for his invention of what he calls the Stanford toilet: a “smart” latrine that can monitor an individual’s health by analyzing their urine and feces. Just as people can dive deep into the food and nutrients that go into their bodies, the device allows curious folks to use the latest technologies to analyze their output with granularity: a dipstick test strip checks urine for signs of infections, diabetes, and other illnesses; a computer vision system calculates the speed and amount of urine released; and a sensor identifies each user based on the unique features of their anus. (The “analprint” augments a fingerprint provided before each use of the toilet.)

The literature prize was awarded to researchers who study a phenomenon known as jamais vu, in which an individual perceives something familiar as being unfamiliar—the opposite of déjà vu. Team member Akira O’Connor, a neuroscientist at the University of St. Andrews, explains that it’s possible to re-create this sensation in a laboratory by having subjects repeat a single word many, many, many, many, many times, until the word starts to sound unrecognizable.

O’Connor and his colleagues were initially wary of receiving an Ig Nobel for their work, which they knew ran the risk of making it appear “quirky and frivolous” and therefore easily dismissed, he explains. But O’Connor is nonetheless pleased, hoping the prize will invite more attention to the study of jamais vu and related phenomena.

All the scientists honored during this year’s ceremony—which features laureates of the non-Ig Nobels handing out the awards—have made contributions to their respective fields, even if that research began with Ig Nobel–worthy pursuits. For instance, the team of researchers who won this year’s Ig Nobel for medicine peered into the noses of human cadavers to determine whether there are an equal number of hairs in each nostril. “The information we needed was not available in anatomy texts, so we decided to find out on our own,” says team lead Natasha Mesinkovska, a dermatologist at the University of California, Irvine.

The hairy study could help guide treatment for patients with alopecia, a disease that causes hair loss. People with alopecia often lose their nasal hairs, Mesinkovska explains, leaving them vulnerable to allergies and infection. “Our intention to describe human nose hair growth patterns may seem unusual,” she says, “but it originated from a need to better understand the role they play as front-line guardians of the respiratory system.”

Other winning research included a study that explored reanimating dead spiders in order to use them as mechanical gripping tools. It’s a contribution to the burgeoning (and terrifying) field of “necrobotics,” which uses living (or, more accurately, formerly living) materials to build robots. Another team was honored for aiming to understand how the human brain learns to identify the different sounds that make up words—by investigating the mental activities of people who speak backward.

All winners received a fake $10 trillion Zimbabwean bill, and were emailed a six-page PDF diagram, which could be printed out and folded into a 3D trophy. Marc Abrahams, editor of the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research and founder of the awards, closed the virtual ceremony with his now-traditional line: “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight—and especially if you did—better luck next year.”

Click here to visit Science.org.

Meet the winners of the 2023 Ig Nobel Prizes

The award ceremony features miniature operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures.

Click here to read the full article on the ArsTechnica website.

Durkin Lab receives third place in Military Health System Research Symposium poster awards

The Durkin Lab at UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, including Drs. Gordon Kennedy, Robert Wilson, Chris Campbell and Anthony Durkin, was awarded third place during the first poster session at the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) in Kissimmee, Florida.  The Durkin Lab was recognized with collaborators from the Air Force Research Lab and the US Army Institute for Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX.

The work presented was a cross-disciplinary and multi-location collaboration, featuring the use of Institute Spatial Frequency Domain Imaging and Machine Learning technologies to classify burn wound severity, including depth and extent of injury to skin and blood supply. The work is highly relevant to the ability of medical teams to design precision treatment plans for burn wounds in both military and civilian injury scenarios.

The poster presentation was one of more than 1,200 on display at the annual MHSRS. A total of 16 poster awards were given during the meeting.

The research team included: Gordon T. Kennedy1, Robert H. Wilson1,2, William Voorhees3, Christine Kowalczewski5, Jason Payne3, Andrew Kowalczewski6, Chris Campbell1, Jeffrey Whitmore3, Randolph Stone II5, Robert Christy7, James E. Parker4, Anthony J. Durkin1,8

1Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA; 2Department of Medicine, University of California Irvine, Orange, CA; 3Air Force Research Lab, 711th Human Performance Wing, Airman Systems Directorate, Bioeffects Division, JBSA Ft Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; 4General Dynamics Information Technology, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; 5U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; 6Department of Bioengineering & Biomedical Engineering, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY; 7Military Health Institute, UT Health San Antonio, San Antonio, TX; 8Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA

Click here to visit the Military Health System Research Symposium website.

Breakthroughs offer hope for vitiligo patients

When Dr. Anand K. Ganesan started a vitiligo specialty practice in 2018 at the UCI Health Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, it was to find new therapies to reverse the disfiguring skin disorder.

Vitiligo — pronounced vit-ill-EYE-go — causes white patches, often on the face and hands, the result of the immune system destroying the skin’s pigment-producing cells.

“All we had at the time was light therapy and topical steroids, which were minimally effective,” says Ganesan, a UCI Health dermatologist and vitiligo expert who was keenly aware of the emotional and psychological toll the disease had on his patients, many of them vulnerable young children and teens who withdrew from peers rather than risk ridicule or worse.

Today, there has never been more hope for patients with the autoimmune disease, which affects an estimated 70 million people worldwide, at least 25% of them children, says the UCI School of Medicine professor of dermatology and biological chemistry.

New options

A topical cream called ruxolitinib, is the first therapy approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) that restores pigment in vitiligo patients. The FDA also recently gave breakthrough device approval for RECELL®, a one-time therapy using the patient’s healthy cells to stimulate lasting repigmentation in stable vitiligo, the regenerative medicine company Avita Medical announced June 16. Other topical, oral and injectable medications also have shown success at halting progression of the disease in early phase trials.

Ganesan and his team of clinicians and researchers have been directly involved in studying all these therapeutic breakthroughs. In addition, they used genomics and UC Irvine’s powerful microscopy resources for a novel study that reveals how immune cells, pigment-making melanocytes and keratinocytes — cells that give skin its structure — interact to maintain depigmented areas. The study was led by UCI Health dermatologist Dr. Jessica Shiu, who, along with Ganesan, is among a handful of U.S. physician-scientists to conduct National Institutes of Health-funded vitiligo research.

“We have made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot more work to be done,” says Ganesan, who recently was honored by the American Skin Association for his pioneering research on vitiligo.  “While many of these new therapies work for patients with disease on the face, they don’t work well on other parts of the body, especially the hands, which is equally distressing for patients.”

Raising awareness and support

As international experts, patients and prominent advocates for improved vitiligo care converge in Atlanta this week for a three-day conference to mark the 13th annual World Vitiligo Day on June 25, Ganesan and his team have launched a campaign to raise awareness about the disease, fund a dedicated dermatology fellowship and provide patients with additional resources to cope with their condition.

Learn how to support vitiligo care and research at UCI Health ›

Ganesan first began treating vitiligo patients as a dermatology resident at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas under the guidance of internationally regarded vitiligo expert Dr. Amit Pandya. Armed with a PhD in microbiology and molecular genetics as well as a medical degree, the young resident was already interested in melanocytes, cells found in skin and hair that produce pigment.

“Vitiligo is unique,” he says. “In other skin diseases like psoriasis or eczema, you treat the autoimmune component to stop the body from attacking the cells and the disease resolves itself. I was struck by this disconnect. Patients with vitiligo had melanocytes but they weren’t working to repigment the white patches.”

More than a skin disorder

Equally distressing is the disease’s effect on emotional and mental health. “When patients first come to me, many of them are down, dejected because they’ve been told no effective treatments exist for their disease,” he says. “This is why advocacy is so important. Both physicians and patients need to know that viable therapies are available.”

An estimated 30% to 50% of vitiligo patients suffer from depression, which in rare cases may even result in suicide attempts. It’s one of the reasons Ganesan helped launch a UCI Health vitiligo support group, to provide a safe space for patients to share treatment experiences and discuss coping strategies for daily living, such as makeup and clothing tips. To understand the impact of the disease, he recommends viewing the 2016 video “Vitiligo: Truth Hope and Change,” which was filmed in part in Orange County with support from UCI.

“When people actually start getting better, their perspective changes,” he says of his patients, a number of whom participated in the vitiligo trials and have seen improvement, “It’s the most rewarding thing for me, to see that spark come back in their eyes.”

Hand spots harder to treat

The new topical treatment restores pigment on the face in about 60% of patients, although it isn’t as successful for the rest of the body. “Hands in particular don’t seem to respond to any of the newer therapies, which is very distressing to the patient,” he says.

New oral therapies also show promise in stopping disease progression. These treatments, which target the Janus kinase signaling pathway, suppress the body’s T-cell defense systems and may result in long-term side effects.

“It’s not perfect,” he says of the new oral therapies. “But it’s a start and hopefully we can improve on them with more research.”

Great strides also have been made in skin-grafting techniques and light therapy to stimulate repigmentation. The RECELL treatment involves harvesting the patient’s healthy melanocytes from a small amount of skin, which is processed to create a solution of skin cells that are applied to white patches of skin prepped by laser ablation. The treated area is then covered with a dressing that allows the solution to “stick” to the grafted site.

Studies showed that more than a third of RECELL participants saw greater than 80% repigmentation 24 weeks after treatment, while over half of patients saw greater than 50% repigmentation over the same period.

Making treatment more accessible

The hope is that RECELL will become a procedure any dermatologist could perform with very limited training, Ganesan says. “It does require a laser to ablate the skin, but it’s a laser that most dermatologists already have in their office.”

Light therapy, too, has become more accessible. Treatments that required intensive daily or weekly office visits now can be done at home. “We give patients a light box and teach them how to use it,” he says. “Light therapy treatments are really hard on children because you have to go into the box two or three times a week.

“One patient I’ve been treating since she was about 8 years old is a teenager now. Being able to do the treatment at home has been a godsend!”

With the white patches gone from her face and about 60% to 70% of her body, he says she is now an outgoing student who participates in school and extracurricular activities with confidence.

Ganesan has a lot to share at the next quarterly vitiligo support group meeting, which went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.“We want to let our community know about the exciting new treatments available, about our research and how we are expanding our research team,” he says.

“One of the most fulfilling things we do is work with our patients to learn how they are affected by the disease. We use that information to design better treatments for them.”

Anand K. Ganesan, MD, PhD, is a board-certified UCI Health dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer and skin pigmentation disorders, including vitiligo, melasma and albinism.

A prolific physician-scientist, Ganesan explores how melanocytes respond to environmental cues, such as ultraviolet radiation and inflammation, to maintain normal homeostasis and how that homeostasis is disrupted by diseases processes, including melanoma and vitiligo. His work spans the spectrum from basic laboratory studies to clinical trials as he seeks to develop novel approaches to diagnosing and treating disease.

He is a professor of dermatology and biological chemistry at the UCI School of Medicine, where he serves as associate dean for physician-scientist development. He also co-directs the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center’s programs in Biotechnology, Imaging and Drug Development and Molecular Diagnostics and Therapeutics. He is the author or co-author of dozens of peer-reviewed publications, including the recent https://www.ucihealth.org/news/2022/04/uci-researchers-discover-promising-new-molecule-for-cancer-therapy” discovery of a new class of drugs to potentially treat melanoma and other cancers.

Click here to view the full UCI Health “Live Well” article.

Innovative Influence

Wilder-Smith’s Clinical Studies Inspire Participants’ Career Aspirations

Dr. Petra Wilder-Smith, UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic’s Director of Dentistry, serves low income dental patients in Orange County and abroad through the use of her innovative, portable oral cancer screening device and other breakthrough technologies.  A strong advocate for preventative medicine and educating populations about proper oral health, the research arm of her practice takes place at the Institute.

With over 400 subjects enrolled in more than 40 Institutional Review Board (IRB) clinical research protocols conducted by Institute researchers annually, Dr. Wilder-Smith has recruited participants for various studies.  These studies include evaluating revolutionary dental products and technologies.

Over the past few years, San Juan Capistrano resident Joey Coleman has been a steadfast participant in Dr. Wilder-Smith’s studies.  Through Dr. Wilder-Smith’s advocacy, Joey has learned about the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene through the use of effective dental products and the avoidance of harsh chemicals with the potential to cause tooth and gum decay.

“Some of my family members have not taken care of their teeth, which has always worried me,” stated Joey. “I have learned a lot more than I ever expected from Petra and her team of doctors, especially when it comes to oral and throat cancer.”

Joey has witnessed Dr. Wilder-Smith’s specialized care.  “Petra is approachable and always willing to share her expertise,” continued Joey.  “I have encouraged my friends and family to join her studies with many who have consistently participated.”

“Joey has raised awareness of UCI’s research within the Orange County community through his enthusiasm and passion for knowledge transfer and innovation,” stated Wilder-Smith.  “He has built bridges to local schools and colleges, encouraging friends and family to learn more about UCI and to join in the many research and educational opportunities provided by the university.”

A few of Joey’s friends have viewed their participation in the studies as transactional.  However, as a former high school baseball player and coach, he realized how pertinent oral cancer prevention was to him and those in his circle.

“Tobacco is a problem in baseball with many players regularly chewing tobacco and using various other nicotine products,” said Joey. “After learning about the consequences, I have shared the harmful effects of use, including tooth loss and gum decay with fellow players – especially with the younger players who I coached.”

As an aspiring attorney, Joey experienced other benefits from working with Dr. Wilder-Smith’s group.  “After learning about my interest in law, Petra introduced me to UCI Law students who served as consultants on her device patents and other intellectual property,” said Joey.  “I found enthusiastic mentorship from the UCI Law students, and gained a plethora of knowledge about the legal profession, including a valuable understanding of the cross-disciplinary pathway that leads from an initial idea to technology innovation that will ultimately improve health outcomes for all.  I learned that this journey encompasses a wide range of legal knowledge and specialties, ranging from patent law and trademarks to regulatory and safety, licensing, investment and contractual expertise.”

From interacting with the law students, Joey’s passion for the legal profession grew.  He is currently working with three different law firms and has since applied to law school, including UCI – his top choice.  Joey’s future career ambitions include working for a law firm or serving as an in-house counsel for a corporation.

“Petra and her team provide dental care to those who are underserved,” stated Joey, “With so many disadvantaged people in Orange County, I strive to launch a venture fund to assist those who are less fortunate in our community.”

“I hope that Joey’s exposure to scientific research and technical innovation through our studies will serve him well as he moves ahead with his lifelong dream of becoming an attorney focused on technology innovation and implementation,” stated Wilder-Smith.  “Wherever life takes him, I know that he will be a phenomenal success and I look forward to celebrating his many accomplishments in the years to come.”

Click here to learn more about Dr. Petra Wilder-Smith.

2023 UCI Institute for Clinical & Translational Science

2022 Grant Awardee Announcement
28 cancer-related pilot projects and early phase clinical trials

This year, the number of funded projects has more than doubled compared to the previous year, resulting in an impressive total of 100 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge funded projects since 2017. This remarkable achievement is a testament to the unwavering dedication of the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge community, who raised a record-breaking $1,066,000 in 2022.

Every dollar you raise directly supports promising initiatives that aim to provide new insights into cancer prevention, treatment and cures. By spreading the news among your friends and family and emphasizing the impact of their donations, we can make an even greater difference.


Track 1: Pilot Projects

“Image-guided Precision Radiotherapy” Team Science Seed Grant
Liangzhong Xiang, PhD, Department of Radiological Sciences, UCI School of Medicine
Charles Limoli, PhD, (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Radiation Oncology, UCI School of Medicine
Zhongping Chen, PhD, (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Biomedical Engineering, UCI School of Engineering
Thomas Milner, PhD, (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Surgery, UCI School of Medicine
Vahid Yaghmai, MD, (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Radiological Sciences, UCI School of Medicine
When treating cancer with radiation therapy, imaging is crucial to help plan and deliver the treatment effectively. However, with the emergence of a new type of radiation therapy called FLASH, which has potential benefits but also poses risks, new imaging techniques are needed to account for daily changes during treatment. Researchers are working on a new imaging modality called radiation-induced acoustic imaging, which will provide real-time 3D dose verification for FLASH therapy. This new technology will help ensure that the treatment is delivered precisely and accurately to the tumor and healthy tissues. This breakthrough can lead to a paradigm shift in using FLASH-RT for cancer treatment, which can benefit patients who may suffer from radiation-induced toxicities.

Flexible Fiber-Based Laser Micro-Biopsy Platform for Minimally-Invasive Tissue Collection and Processing During Cancer Surgery
Oliver Eng, MD, Department of Surgery, UCI School of Medicine
Thomas Milner, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Surgery, UCI School of Medicine
Ryan O’Connell, MD (Co-Principal Investigator), Department of Pathology, UCI School of Medicine
Nitesh Katta, PhD (Co-Investigator), Beckman Laser Institute, University of California, Irvine
Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and, in particular, accounts for a significant portion of patients who present to UCI for treatment. The management of colon cancer when it has spread or metastasized often requires biopsies to obtain tissue, which helps guide individualized treatment. Biopsy techniques and tissue processing have limitations and can be improved upon; therefore, we propose a novel platform which could potentially affect millions of patients annually.

Click here to read about all of the awardees on the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge website.  Click here to join the Institute’s “BLI Photons in Motion” UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge team.

2023 UCI Institute for Clinical & Translational Science

PI: Yama Akbari, MD, PhD
Co-I: Michael Rochon-Duck, MD

Brain-heart connections during cardiac arrest for early stage prognosis and treatments to improve outcome

Spreading depolarization (SD) is a massive release of ions and energy that travels across the brain surface and is detectable using electrical recordings. SD is sometimes called a “brain tsunami,” alluding to the fact that they are the largest and most powerful brain waves detected. The most common causes of SD include migraine auras (sensory disturbances that can precede the headache), seizures, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), strokes, and cardiac arrest (CA) which starves the brain of oxygen. Understanding SD is important to physicians because SD can cause brain tissue to swell and release toxic chemicals that can trigger the death of neurons.

While previous investigations have looked at how SD affects brain tissue directly, we want to see if SD can also have impacts on organ systems beyond the brain. Using a rat model of CA, our lab was the first to show SD may change the rate at which blood pressure drops off as the heart becomes progressively weaker. This may not be as surprising as it appears since the heart and brain are interconnected through a variety of pathways called the autonomic nervous system, the most famous such pathway being the vagus nerve. We suspect that SD alters how the vagus nerve communicates with the heart, perhaps triggering arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms) that can be detected by monitoring the electrical activity of the heart. Other researchers have found that stimulating the vagus nerve with electrodes can make it harder for SD to happen in the brain, but no one has yet done experiments to see if stopping SDs can also stop arrhythmias in the heart.

Our lab specializes in a rat model of CA and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and we want to be the first to test the hypothesis that SD induces arrhythmias due to vagus nerve signaling. We induce CA in a rat by stopping its air supply (done as humanely as possible and approved by veterinarians), which mimics choking, drowning, or drug overdoses in humans. We then will use electrical and optical recordings of brain activity and metabolism, as well as recordings of heart activity and blood pressure. This will allow us to correlate SD events in the brain to arrhythmias in the heart by using computational algorithms to extract detailed statistics. After we establish whether SD is correlated with arrhythmias, we will experimentally block or stimulate the vagus nerve with electrodes or drugs to test this relationship between the heart and brain.

Doing these experiments in animals will tell us what to look for in human patients. In parallel to these animal experiments, we will use a database of brain recordings during CA in the hospital to see if the same signatures of SD and arrhythmia occur simultaneously in patients. Even after successful CPR, most people who have CA are left in comas or have permanent brain damage. Understanding how the brain interacts with the heart during the process of dying may be the first step to allow doctors to develop better, targeted resuscitation methods.

Click here to visit the announcement on the UCI Institute for Clinical & Translational Science website.

Bright Future for Light Therapy Firm BioPhotas

BY PETER J. BRENNAN, Orange County Business Journal

Patrick Johnson says his medical device company’s product to reduce wrinkles through low-level light therapy has three distinct advantages over aesthetics industry competitors that supply neurotoxins like Botox. “It’s nontoxic, noninvasive, natural—we’re just reminding the body how to heal itself,” Johnson, co-founder and chief executive of Tustin-based BioPhotas Inc., told the Business Journal during a tour of the company’s new facility. “It takes a little longer to see results as opposed to a neurotoxin, but you got the results naturally. The skin doesn’t become rigid.”

BioPhotas, which he founded along with Kathleen Buchanan in 2011, is gaining traction, with sales to consumers and medical professionals approaching $25 million annually and nearing 50 employees.

The company on June 19 is inaugurating its new headquarters on Red Hill Avenue in Tustin. Its 25,000-square-foot facility, which is on a five-year lease, is at an office complex that sits across the street from the Tustin Legacy development. The new facility is double the size of its prior facility in Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle.

The reason for the move is simple.

“It’s the growth that we’ve been experiencing and the growth that we’re planning,” he said. “We bit off more than we can chew when we picked this facility. We think we can triple our size in this facility.”

Like Hydration

Johnson has a deep background in medical devices, having worked as CEO of Pro-Dex Inc., a maker of powered surgical products, and as divisional general manager at Sybron Dental Specialties, a one-stop shop for endodontists.

He was initially skeptical about light therapy, which was developed at NASA (see story, this page).

Before Johnson began the company, he did a three-month deep dive into the industry, becoming impressed with the clinical research done at some of the world’s most prestigious research centers. The company’s worked with wound healing researchers at UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, among others.

“Light therapy is the functional equivalent of hydration. It’s good for everything,” Johnson said. “As we age, our bodies lose the ability to heal themselves the way they were originally designed. The fundamental benefit of light therapy is getting the body back to repairing itself the way it was originally designed.”

He also found why other companies failed at this new technology.

“It seemed the people who tried to commercialize this technology came and went very quickly,” he said. “My diagnosis was they were trying to be cosmetic companies. They weren’t trying to be high road medical device companies. That’s the approach we took. We’re going to do the heavy regulatory lifting to bring products to market.”

BioPhotas also went through Octane’s Launchpad accelerator for business and life sciences companies.

Orthopedics Background

Because of Johnson’s background in orthopedics, he knew how the industry employed bendable thermal devices to manage pain and accelerate healing. When he started BioPhotas, he saw competitors use rigid flat panels that hung over the patients.

“Intuitively, it struck me that if you could wrap the area of treatment, it would be more effective,” he said. “The key differentiator to our product is that it’s flexible in the area of treatment.”

He was able to reduce the costs from as much as $15,000 charged by competitors down to $1,200 by using fewer lights and less energy.

“If you can get light emissions closer to the skin, the light doesn’t have to be as powerful. By decreasing the power of the device, you take a lot of cost out of it.”


Nowadays, BioPhotas’ key product line, called Celluma, has received Food and Drug Administration approval to treat acne, wrinkles, arthritis and muscle and joint aches.

Celluma delivers a combination of blue, red and near-infrared light energy that can switch its technology to treat specific conditions at various layers in the skin.

The company’s website lists Celluma products ranging from $299 to treat skin conditions, to $1,645 for its flagship product to remove wrinkles, to $15,000 for a full body case.

Johnson says hair restoration will become a bigger part of the company’s business, noting that besides men becoming balder, about 40% of women over 40 report hair loss.

For now, aesthetics such as removing wrinkles or acne is the key growth driver.

“People want to retain a youthful look and light therapy is really good for that,” he said. “The beauty market has huge growth drivers, even in a down economy.”

The light therapy isn’t the same as sitting in the sun because it doesn’t have UV lights, Johnson said.

Debt-Free, Profitable

The company, which was initially funded by high-net-worth individuals, is debt-free and has been profitable for the past five years, he said.

“As an operator, your job is to make money. When we founded BioPhotas, I brought that approach to it. It wasn’t about building sales as quickly as possible and losing a lot of money that some subsequent round of investors would have to pay for it,” Johnson said.

“I see this company as my professional dissertation. Throughout my professional career, I always made notes to myself about when I own my own company, it’s going to be different. To a great degree, BioPhotas is the company that I always wanted to work for.”

The ‘Hyper-Aging’ Effects of Space Travel

BioPhotas Inc.’s principal product, Celluma, got a development push thanks to NASA.

The U.S. space agency, which was worried about the effect of gravity on astronauts during long-term space missions, developed light emitting diode therapy and in 2000, it issued a press release discussing the “healing power of light.”

“Using powerful light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, originally designed for commercial plant growth research in space, scientists have found a way to help patients here on Earth,” NASA said.

In 2015, NASA conducted a double-blind study on Scott Kelly, who was in space for a year, and his twin brother Mark Kelly, also an astronaut who spent the year on Earth mimicking exercises by his brother.

“Scott came back significantly more aged and, in less health, than Mark who stayed on Earth,” BioPhotas CEO Patrick Johnson said.

“NASA was looking for a way to counteract that effect on deep space exploration, particularly when you’re thinking of sending astronauts to Mars, where the fast track is a couple of years,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of implications on retaining good cellular functions here on Earth.

“It turns out that cellular functions rely on gravity. In the absence of that gravity, bad things start to happen,” Johnson said. “Essentially the body enters a state of hyper aging.”

Click here to read the Orange County Business Journal article.

Kristen M. Kelly, MD selected as fellow in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program

The Office of the Dean is pleased to announce the acceptance of Kristen M. Kelly, MD, as a fellow in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program. Dr. Kelly is chair of the Department of Dermatology at the UCI School of Medicine,  and a professor in the Departments of Dermatology and Surgery at UCI School of Medicine. She is also a clinical researcher at the UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic.

ELAM is an intensive one-year program of leadership training with extensive coaching, networking and mentoring opportunities aimed at expanding the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry and public health. Dr. Kelly will participate in this one-year curriculum focused on strategic finance, organizational dynamics and personal leadership effectiveness.

Click here to learn more about Kristen Kelly, MD.