You walk into a small kiosk glowing with purple light, press the buttons on the touchscreen interface, and stand for a few minutes of light therapy that zaps essential vitamins straight through your skin.
Sound like science fiction? Well, for residents of Vancouver, B.C., it isn’t. The city is home to a new light therapy kiosk from Seattle-area startup Solius, the first time the company has debuted one of the devices outside of clinical trials.
The company announced Tuesday that Canadian regulators have cleared its kiosks to operate across the country, starting with its first public kiosk near Granville Island in Vancouver. It plans to put five other devices in place before the end of the year.
“We are thrilled to launch our first Solius in Vancouver, bringing a much-needed vitamin D treatment to residents across the city,” Solius CEO Rick Hennessey said in a statement. The company is aiming to combat vitamin D deficiency, an increasingly common problem.
Users of the Solius kiosk spend two to six minutes in a therapy session, depending on their skin type. The kiosks are self-serve and operate on a first-come basis, although users can add themselves to a waitlist for kiosks from a connected smartphone app.
During a light therapy session, a user can absorb vitamin D that is equivalent to spending 20 minutes in direct sunlight, although they are only exposed to the equivalent of 10 seconds of ultraviolet radiation.
The therapy is an alternative to vitamin D pills, a solution that Hennessey previously told GeekWire isn’t sufficient to address the problem of vitamin D deficiency.
“Like fresh air, clean water and proper nutrition, humans need sunlight that can’t be replaced with a pill,” he said in an email. “We developed the Solius science because the sun creates skin cancer and supplements are not solving the problem.”
The kiosk costs $50 per month, which while not as cheap as the natural outdoor alternative, covers the recommended treatment of one session per week. The first kiosk is located in a BioPro Biologics Pharmacy at 845 W. Broadway in Vancouver.
Solius has been testing the kiosks in a clinical trial in the U.S. with two booths in the Seattle area, including one at Joint Base Lewis-McCord where the company is working with the military on a clinical trial about warfighter readiness.
But Hennessey, a veteran entrepreneur who previously recently sold Seattle mobile software startup Cequint for $112.5 million, said the company has aspirations beyond just addressing vitamin D deficiency.
“We have designed this exciting light science to activate an important immune response that creates a long list of critical hormones and peptides to physiologically improve health, fight disease and improve happiness,” he said.
“We’re doing something that we believe will be better than any pharmaceutical drug, and we believe it’s the future of medicine,” he added.
Evidence behind the health risks of vitamin D deficiency is still shaky, and the number of people with vitamin D deficiency is unclear. It’s difficult to accurately measure vitamin D intake and studies trying to pin down the problem have found that anywhere from one-third to three-fourths of U.S. adults are deficient.
And the jury’s still out on how vitamin D deficiency could impact someone’s risk of getting serious diseases. Some studies have found a correlation between low vitamin D and cancer, for example, while other studies haven’t found any correlation.
However, understanding the problem is becoming increasingly vital as vitamin D deficiency becomes more common. The number of people deficient in the vitamin has increased dramatically in the U.S. in the past decades, particularly among minority groups and people with other pressing health problems.