Here comes healthy Sunshine!

Whilst enjoying a rare spot of Sunshine in Scotland, we’ve caught up with speaker Richard Weller who explains the growing global impact from his idea and research.

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A mere 12 minutes talking on stage has been a real boost to my research and people’s understanding of what I do – I’m finding health benefits from sunshine. Now, 8 years on, I’m running a clinical trial to learn if UV can lower high blood pressure.  Raising awareness of a topic for more funding is hard work, so my talk has become a handy calling card that helps put my ideas out into the public domain – and what a delight when TED elected to share my idea worth spreading too!

My work has been shared in many ways, through papers, talks, events and even on the front cover of the New Scientist. The article was called ‘Let the Sunshine in’, exploring this expanding field, with people from across the sciences beginning to find health benefits from sunshine. Starting with serious science journalism it’s now being covered in lifestyle features, including the Financial Times, and on ‘Trust me I’m a doctor’ on the BBC with Michael Moseley.

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When I spoke at TEDxGlasgow I was an academic dermatologist talking about quite basic research – the reason that sunlight is good for your heart is that it releases this stuff called nitric oxide (NO) from the skin.  Naturally, it feels counterintuitive for a dermatologist to be saying that sunlight is good for you, and since my talk I’ve had dermatology friends ask, “So what do I say to my patients?” Now it gets really tricky! As a dermatologist, you’d say that if you go out in the sun it can cause skin cancer. But as a doctor? Well, it changes to, the sun is probably rather good for your general health as it seems to prevent heart disease. So, oh my gosh, what to do?

One of my PhD students was working on this when we thought “Why can’t we have a sunscreen that gives protection from harmful effects of UV such as skin cancer, and at the same time, could release NO which accounts for many of the benefits of sunshine?” With this idea, we raised funding from investors, combined with fantastic support from the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, who funded me to see if we really could develop such a ‘healthy sunscreen’

In July 2019, this research has led to a real product, Sunwell sunscreen which is about to go on sale. You know, I’m not a business person. I’m at a public university, and only see patients in the NHS.  It has been great to have the support of the Scottish Government investing in my research and helping the birth of a spin-out company based on it. 

Setting up a company does still seem an interesting academic exercise, but maybe that will change when we start to sell sunscreen!   It has been a very interesting and enjoyable process and I will be very proud to have formed a Scottish business with the potential to pay taxes and employ people. At the time I did the TEDx talk all this couldn’t have been further from my mind!  

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Now I am interested to see how the sunscreen industry is going to react to, or challenge my product. The general view is that the sun is bad, wear sunscreen. Although national government guidelines have shifted to saying there are health benefits from sunshine, companies aren’t in a rush to re-develop and re-market their existing products because of the expense involved. 

I will continue to be passionate about my research, as will others in a similar field, and eventually, something is going to have to change in the sunscreen industry. I’ve developed what I think is a genuinely disruptive technology for the sunscreen market so let’s see where this goes!

I hope people like our sunscreen and get the health benefits too – it’s nice to share what can happen when someone is spreading important idea’s TEDx and TED style.

Watch Richard give his TEDxGlasgow talk:

We are proud to have helped Richard Weller move towards an outcome with potential health benefits for us all.

Have you been interested in his research, or any of our TEDxGlasgow speaker ideas? Let us know at [email protected]

  • Written by Zeb Ahmed
  • Posted on July, 17 2019

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