Working as a member of the Proteus research group, which aims to develop minimally invasive fibre based optical imaging of pathologies in the distal lung at the bedside, allows me the exciting opportunity to apply optical fibre physics to an unmet clinical need.
My research focuses on improving the optics of a wide-field fibre microendoscopy imaging system which uses dual light emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate lung tissue and induce fluorescence in targeted fluorescent molecules resulting in disease-specific wide-field multiplexed molecular imaging.
One of the challenges I am currently working on involves overcoming the inherent limitations of multicore imaging fibres. A limiting factor of the imaging quality of an optical fibre is the coupling of light from one core to its neighbouring cores. While core to core coupling is observed in all multicore fibres, we are using data gathered from our own optical fibres developed at the University of Bath to enable post-processing methods which will computationally compensate for the cross-talk between cores observed in images. This will counteract loss of contrast and allow for a clearer image and enhanced data visualisation for clinicians.
Another technical challenge of detecting exogenous fluorophores (when molecular tracers are used that specifically bind to targets such as bacteria) in human lung tissue stems from the abundantly present elastin and collagen. Elastin and collagen are endogenous fluorophores with broad autofluorescence emission peaks, which complicate the visualisation of narrower and weaker signals from disease specific fluorophores. However, by taking advantage of these different spectra by equipping our widefield imaging system with spectroscopic functionality we hope to overcome the issue and enable better visualisation of pathologies.
Surgery is one of the primary treatment options for cancer alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While there are many imaging techniques that play important roles in preoperative cancer diagnostics, very few can be applied intraoperatively to aid surgeons in distinguishing tumour margins. Fluorescence techniques offer a less costly and less disruptive alternative to traditional imaging methods for surgery; however there are currently a limited number of fluorophores that have been FDA approved as fluorescence imaging contrast agents for use in fluorescence guided surgery.
Based in the Photophysics Group at Strathclyde, this project will involve the investigation of the properties of both intrinsic and extrinsic fluorophores that have been identified as potential candidates for use in fluorescence guided surgery. Further to this, the implementation of a liquid light guide based fluorescence system will be tested, and medical applications outside of cancer surgery will also be investigated for these fluorophores.
OPTIMA offers a unique opportunity to develop interdisciplinary skills. As my background has a strong focus on physics, this programme offered the perfect opportunity for me to develop my skills in areas such as biology and chemistry, whilst contributing to meaningful research.
Arguably the biggest global problem in medicine is the huge rise in antibiotic resistance. We use far too many antibiotics and it gives pathogens the opportunity to develop a resistance, eventually making the drugs against them useless. One of the reasons we’re overusing antibiotics is a lack of confidence in our current methods to diagnose infections, especially those in the lower airways of the lung such as pneumonia. There is a desperate need for a more novel way to assess these parts of the body when an infection is suspected, so clinicians can make a more informed, confident decision over what treatment is best.
I’m working as a member of the Proteus research group, who are aiming to overcome these problems by developing an optical fibre-based imaging system, to be used in hospitals to image deep into the lung in real-time and at the bedside. My research will focus on the development and validation of a library of “smartprobes” designed to label a range of cells, from pathogens to host immune cells. These probes emit a fluorescent light only upon interaction with their specific target such as bacteria, thereby lighting up these cells to be detected with our fibre-based imaging system. Our ability to image pathogens in patient’s lungs will allow us to determine what treatment is best for the individual, promoting a more personalised approach to medical treatment. What’s more, by labelling immune cells as well as bacteria, we will be able to image this interaction between host and pathogen, identifying any possible failures in a patient’s immune system.
Having chosen a related PhD here in Edinburgh, OPTIMA have welcomed me into their programme and allowed me to gain a unique PhD experience I’d struggle to find anywhere else.
Estrogen receptor (ER), is a transcriptional factor which is over-expressed in a variety of different cancers, including breast cancer. Although the treatment against ER overexpression is improving with less side effects, drug resistance remains one of the major clinical issue.
Overall, the aim of the project is to use sophisticated and sensitive technologies to address the molecular imaging of ER expression in breast cancer models. Determining the alterations in ER expression in response to novel anticancer drugs against breast cancer will lead to more effective drug selection, lower possibility of treatment failure and a clinically meaningful improvement in outcomes. Future prospective studies may involve long term monitoring of breast cancer patients, who are on endocrine therapy, by using a combination of molecular biology and nanotechnology for less invasive, targeted and rapid therapeutic approaches.
The OPTIMA programme places emphasis on interdisciplinary research as it combines the study of molecular interactions and structural dynamics with the development of a complete scientific business profile. I am confident that this PhD will improve my background knowledge and will contribute to achieve my personal goals which are to continue in the research field of molecular diagnosis and modern therapeutics.