Publication: From Macro to Micro

A joint publication between my old and new group has just appeared in the Robotics and Automation Magazine:

From Macro to Micro: Autonomous Multiscale Image Fusion for Robotic Surgery

Lin Zhang, Menglong Ye, Petros Giataganas, Michael Hughes, Adrian Bradu, Adrian Podoleanu, and Guang-Zhong Yang

It’s available open access from here:

This paper was the result of a project integrating two high-resolution, probe-based imaging systems, endoscopic microscopy and optical coherence tomography (OCT), with the da Vinci surgical robot, and then using these imaging systems to support automated scanning to generate large-area maps of tissue at high resolution.

The imaging systems and the robot

The two different imaging modalities support the robotic guidance in different ways. The endomicroscope provides an en face view of the tissue (as though you are looking down on it from the top), whereas the OCT gives a cross-sectional image through the tissue. The endomicroscope images are circular, and about a quarter of a millimetre in diameter, while the OCT gives cross-sectional images that are 5 mm in depth (although in practice it can only penetrate 1-2 mm into tissue before the signal becomes too small to be useful). So the endomicroscope images were used to guide the position along the surface of the tissue, and the OCT images were used to guide the robot’s distance from the tissue. Between the two, this provided three-dimensional control of the robot, with accuracy measured in the 10’s of microns. This made the robotic control far more accurate than simply relying on its own, internal position estimation.

This project was a great example of two Universities collaborating – the OCT system was built here at Kent, I developed the endomicroscope at Imperial College, and Imperial also developed most of the robotic control system using the da Vinci Research Kit (dVRK). A version of this system was entered into the Surgical Robotic Challenge Last year, and although we didn’t win the overall prize, we did win the Best Video category.


Postgrad festival and alumni panel

It was the university’s postgraduate festival on Tuesday 16th May. This is a really nice event that sadly didn’t exist when I was doing my PhD, and it seemed to be appreciated by students from across the faculties and campuses. It was also a great opportunity to explore the impressive atrium and events space of the new Sibson Building, a mere stone’s throw from the Photonics Centre. A while back I had volunteered to sit on the alumni panel, sharing experiences of life after postgraduate study at Kent, alongside others who had gone on to work in industry and the third sector. We had a good attendance for the panel, with lots of thoughtful questions from the audience, and hopefully some of the students found it useful for their career

The festival was also a great chance to see some snapshots of student research from around the University, particularly the humanities and social sciences work which we don’t always come into contact with. We had a big showing from the Applied Optics Group (AOG), including a great poster from visiting student Miroslav Duriš, who I have been co-supervising, presenting some of his work on multimode fibre imaging. Finally, congratulations to AOG member Magalie Bondu who won the three-minute teaser competition, and will now be competing in the national competition.


Art of Research

Communication is an essential part of carrying out scientific research; if we don’t find effective ways to tell other people about the discoveries we have made, or the technology we’ve developed, then we are almost certainly wasting our time (and quite possibly other people’s money!). So, we try to communicate our results in all kinds of ways – we write journal papers, present talks and posters at conferences and discuss things less formally within our academic networks. We also try to engage with the public whenever we can, but for most of us this inevitably makes up a small fraction of our total communication bandwidth.  Even when we are trying to share our work more widely, it’s not always clear how we should go about this. Often, our discoveries are often so specialist that the new advance can’t be fully appreciated unless you already have a pretty good understanding of the ‘state of the art’. So the search is always on for new and interesting ways to share our sense of excitement about what it is that we do.

With that in mind, it was great to see that Khushi Vyas, a PhD student at Imperial College that I had (and still have) a hand in supervising, has won a prize in Imperial’s ‘Art of Science’ competition. Her entry was an image of breast cancer tissue, taken using an endomicroscope that Khushi had built, modified from a design which I originally developed (which you can read all about here). These images were taken on tissue which has been removed from the breast as part of a treatment programme, but the hope for the future is the endomicroscope would be used directly on the patient, helping to guide a surgeon as he or she removes a tumour. Khushi had applied some image processing to make some of the key features of the images – cells, cell nuclei and so on – stand out, and which had the nice side effect of producing a beautiful picture which caught the eye of the voting public. She has also recently published a paper on this work in the Journal of Biomedical Optics, you can read that here.


Starting Out

I’m a newly appointed lecturer in applied optics (physics) at the School of Physical Sciences at the University of Kent. In my research I develop ways of using light in biology and medicine, to help us understand, diagnose and treat disease. I’ll be using this blog to keep anyone who is interested updated on my work, and the work of the research team that I will be building over the next few years. This isn’t aimed exclusively at academics, everything should be understandable regardless of your background, but if anything isn’t clear or you want to know more, please get in touch. I also occasionally write a blog on biophotonics, where I discuss some of the latest developments in the field, you can read that here.

Before moving to Kent I was a postdoc for five years at Imperial College London. I worked in a multi-disciplinary group called the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery. It meant that I was rubbing shoulders with engineers, computer scientists, chemists and clinicians, as well as the odd physicist.  Working there taught me one thing above all else – that the problems of the real world don’t respect academic boundaries. If we want to try to solve some of them then we need to pool our expertise and resources and – the hardest part – try to understand each other’s language and culture. So, with that in mind, I’m always keen to meet people outside of optics and physics, whether you be a biologist, a medical professional, a patient or anyone else who might be interested, to talk about what it is that I do, what it is that you, and how we might be able to work together.