Aspiring doctor combines med school with business

Medical student Chris Macomber, who comes from a long line of doctors, has teamed with his partner t
Chris Macomber shows the prototype of the tanning bed he designed with his business partner, Peter Fiset.
Chris Macomber shows the prototype of the tanning bed he designed with his business partner, Peter Fiset.

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Chris Macomber only sleeps between two and five hours a night. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I catch up on weekends once in a while,” said Macomber, 25, a fourth-year medical student at Albany Medical Center.

Macomber is also an entrepreneur and co-founder of Opthera, a biomedical company with exclusive rights to a patent for the use of ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (UV LEDS) in tanning beds and medical phototherapy, or light therapy, to treat the debilitating disease lupus.

A diode, about the size of the top of a pencil eraser, emits light when an electric current is applied in the forward direction of the device.

“They have a three- to five-year life span before they burn out,” said Macomber, an Albany native who comes from a medical family.

His grandfather, Dr. W. Brandon Macomber, was a pioneer in plastic surgery and helped to establish the plastic surgery curriculum at Albany Medical College. His uncle, Dr. E. Scott Macomber still practices plastic surgery in Albany.

Macomber also plans to become a plastic surgeon after he graduates from Albany Medical College in about six months. He also has a master’s degree in business education from Union College and attended Union College’s eight-year Leadership in Medicine Program.

Two branches

In July 2006, a friend from Union College introduced Macomber to his business partner, Peter Fiset, who had patents on light-emitting diodes for tanning and medical phototherapy.

The company now has two branches: TanThera, the medical cosmetology and tanning company, and WellThera, the medical phototherapy company.

“The first device we are putting out with the company is a new tanning bed that eliminates the light wavelengths that have been linked to the negative effects of tanning,” said Macomber. “We are applying to the Food and Drug Administration right now for approval.”

Macomber expects to hear back from the FDA within a few months.

The other therapy Macomber is focusing on is lupus phototherapy that treats the whole illness, he said.

“Essentially, what the light therapy does is decrease inflammation in patients,” Macomber explained. “The light actually gets inside the body and creates energy. So one of the first symptoms lupus patients report is that their fatigue disappears. Then their arthritic pain goes away, and their cognitive function improves.”

Studies have shown that most lupus patients respond in about three weeks, after having three 30-minute sessions a week.

“When we put lupus patients in the phototherapy bed, we know there are systemic effects in the body,” said Macomber, who is working with several scientists at Albany Medical College and physicians and researchers around the country. “We know we are switching on some genes in the whole body that decrease the inflammation. The light or phototherapy switches on all these protective mechanisms or genes in the body that deal with inflammation, energy and healing. So we kind of trick the body into healing itself.”

Frank Rice, Ph.D., of the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical Center, said he thinks Macomber’s work is fascinating and potentially very important.

“I think his delivery system is very well thought out in taking the strategy of producing exactly the wave length of light that one wants, instead of trying to filter out the light you don’t want,” said Rice. “And that’s very difficult to do.”

Macomber said he is currently talking to several physicians in hospitals throughout the country where he may be able to set up the device to treat lupus patients for research studies.

“It’s very safe; we know it works,” said Macomber. “But it’s a matter of getting funding and investors to set this up. Then it will probably take two to three years to do the appropriate amount of clinical testing, then applying to the FDA, and then waiting for approval to come back.”

Macomber said once he completes his residency in plastic surgery, he plans to practice plastic surgery and work part time in his business.

“In 10 years, I would love to see myself in clinical practice with a good group of patients, and a couple of physician partners, and also acting as an advisory board member or working in a research capacity for Opthera,” said Macomber. “I’ve seen a number of doctors who do that. I love medicine and surgery, and I want to do that first. It’s all a matter of balance. My clinical duties are always first, and I find weekends are the best study time. A lot of the business is handled through e-mails and phone calls, but I’ll admit that fitting in business meetings is tricky.”

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