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Photodynamic therapy (PDT), matured as a feasible medical technology in the 1980s at several institutions throughout the world, is a third-level treatment for cancer involving three key components: a photosensitizer, light, and tissue oxygen. It is also being investigated for treatment of psoriasis and acne, and is an approved treatment for wet macular degeneration. The German physician Friedrich Meyer–Betz performed the first study with what was first called photoradiation therapy (PRT) with porphyrins in humans in 1913. Meyer–Betz tested the effects of haematoporphyrin-PRT on his own skin.

Thomas Dougherty of Roswell Park Cancer Center, among others worldwide, became a highly visible advocate and educator. Early patients were treated at Roswell, Los Angeles Children's Hospital, Los Angeles County Hospital, and other clinics and Hospitals in the USA and overseas.

It was John Toth as product manager for Cooper Medical Devices Corp/Cooper Lasersonics with early clinical argon dye lasers who acknowledged[clarify] the "photodynamic chemical effect" of the therapy and wrote the first "white paper" renaming the therapy as "Photodynamic Therapy" (PDT) to support efforts in setting up 10 clinical sites in Japan where the term "radiation" had negative connotations. PDT received even greater interest as result of Thomas Dougherty helping expand clinical trials and forming the International Photodynamic Association, in 1986.

A photosensitizer is a chemical compound that can be excited by light of a specific wavelength. This excitation uses visible or near-infrared light. In photodynamic therapy, either a photosensitizer or the metabolic precursor of one is administered to the patient.

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