Physician Rox Anderson has made discoveries that have improved lives across the world. In recognition of his invention of laser dermatology, Anderson has been selected as a 2020 Inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF).
Curiosity and Experimentation
“I think everybody is born with curiosity. It’s a question of whether you hang on to it,” Anderson has said. Growing up in Champaign, Illinois, he enjoyed the freedom to explore, experiment and invent his own ways to have fun. In a conversation with NIHF, he shared, “On the prairie, lots of little adventures can be had. I learned how to sail my bicycle, for example, because the land is absolutely flat. If there’s a good breeze, you could put up a makeshift sail and go for 100 miles.”
Anderson and his friends also found fun in electronics. They modified rocket-building kits and took apart discarded radios and other items to experiment with the components and design new circuits. By age 12, Anderson had become an amateur radio operator and found excitement in contacting people around the world.
Having learned the value of curiosity and problem solving early on, Anderson went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in life sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School.
Life-Changing Research and Invention
In 1980, while he was a medical student at Harvard, Anderson discovered a study on argon laser treatment for port wine stains. Though this treatment was effective, it carried a high risk of scarring, so Anderson was determined to develop a superior alternative. His work led him to the idea of selective photothermolysis (SP), stemming from his theory that by using pulses of light at appropriate wavelengths, specific structures within skin could be targeted and destroyed without damaging surrounding structures.
Anderson developed SP with Harvard colleague John Parrish, then worked with Candela Corp. to produce the first commercialized pulsed dye laser. SP proved a landmark concept, successfully addressing port wine stains and forming the basis for many other dermatological laser treatments. With his colleague Dieter Manstein, Anderson also developed fractional photothermolysis (FP), a procedure that rehabilitates hypertrophic, or raised, scars, using microscopic laser beams to initiate a natural wound healing response with no additional scarring.
The laser-based treatments and procedures developed by Anderson are now commonly used in medical care to improve lives through the removal of birthmarks, scars and other skin lesions. His groundbreaking technology also advanced laser-based solutions for other concerns, including permanent hair removal, acne treatment and tattoo removal. When speaking about his research and innovation, Anderson has described himself as a problem solver. “I love this process of solving clinical problems, letting the problem be the guide, not the technology.”
Anderson continues to follow his curiosity, as well as his drive to help others. In addition to contributing to treatments for vocal cords, kidney stones, glaucoma, heart disease, photodynamic therapy for cancer and optical diagnostics, he has established charitable medical treatment facilities in several countries, including Armenia, Pakistan and Vietnam. By contributing his expertise to train local physicians, he ensures that these clinics are self-sustaining.
On May 7, 2020, Rox Anderson will be recognized along with our entire class of 2020 Inductees at the 48th Annual NIHF Induction Ceremony. Look for more blogs introducing our inspiring 2020 Inductees at invent.org.