Dr Michael Hughes
Lecturer in Applied Optics
I am a lecturer in the School of Physical Sciences and a member of the Applied Optics Group, where I develop photonics techniques for applications in biosciences and medicine. My lab currently focuses on new ways of building thin, flexible endoscopic and needle microscopes – miniature probes which allow us to visualise living tissue in realtime. I am also interested in developing novel, low-cost microscopes for point-of-care and low-resource imaging. I began my career at Durham University, graduating in 2006 with an MSci in Physics. I moved south to Canterbury for my PhD to work on a joint project with the British Museum, the National Gallery and NTU, developing applications of Optical Coherence Tomography in art conservation and archaeology. I then changed direction slightly and moved to Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust to complete the IPEM Part 1 training programme in medical physics, with rotations in diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy. Returning to the world of optics in late 2011, I took up the position of Research Associate in Biophotonics at the Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London, where I developed endomicroscopy systems for applications in surgery, and later became a Hamlyn Fellow. I moved to Kent as a lecturer in 2017 to develop a research programme in point-of-care and endoscopic microscopy.
My lab is focused on high resolution, in vivo optical imaging (optical biopsy), a technique which allows us to image human tissue at a cellular level in real time. This relies on miniaturised microscope probes, built using fibre optic technology, which are small and flexible enough to be passed along the instrument channel of an endoscope, or to be introduced via a needle. These probes can then be used to display a live microscope video-feed to the operator. Optical biopsy is an alternative to the conventional approach to high resolution tissue imaging (histology), where small amounts of tissue are extracted from the patient during a biopsy procedure and sent to a laboratory to be viewed under a bench-top microscope. The advantage of endomicroscopy is that, instead of waiting hours or days for a report from the histopathology lab, clinicians can see the results immediately. While at Imperial College, I worked as part of a team on an EPSRC funded project developing new endomicroscopy technology to aid more widespread clinical adoption. In particular, we worked on methods for improving the image resolution and field of view, enabling us to characterise larger areas of tissue. I developed high frame rate endomicroscopes (120 fps) which offer depth sectioning using the line scanning technique, allowing us to better assemble mosaics (i.e. stitch together images) even when the endomicroscope probe is moved rapidly across the tissue. We also showed that we can enhance the optical sectioning to near that of a point-scanning confocal endomicroscope using a two-step technique. I also developed white light endomicroscopes, as well as working with colleagues, particularly Siyang Zuo, Petros Giataganas, Lin Zhang, and Chris Payne to integrate robotics and other smart technology with endomicroscopy imaging probes. We particularly focused on applications in breast conserving surgery, with a recent study led by Khushi Vyas and an older study led by Tou Pin Chang clearly demonstrating the potential. I also worked on a horizon scan funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looking at the potential role of optical biopsy techniques for gut disease in the developing world. At Kent, I hold an EPSRC grant to develop an 'ultrathin fluorescence microscope in a needle', using a technique known as 'ghost imaging' or 'single pixel imaging'. Members of my lab are also exploring other avenues, including techniques for low cost optical sectioning in fibre bundle endomicroscopy, as well as the integration of endomicroscopy with other optical biopsy techniques. I also work on another EPSRC project 'REBOT - Robotic Endobronchial Optical Tomography', a collaboration with Imperial College London where I was originally Researcher Co-Investigator. In this project we are developing a robotic catheter equipped with multi-modal imaging systems for investigations in the lung.
I teach on the physics undergraduate programme, including the Stage 1 special relativity lectures in PH304 and part of the Stage 1 electricity and light module PH322. I also teach on PH800 Biomedical Optics, offered to postgraduate students in the Applied Optics Group.
Research Opportunities in Biophotonics: I am always happy to speak with potential MSc and PhD candidates (for degrees in Physics) about self-funded study or applying for external funding, please get in touch. Funded positions will be advertised when available. I am able to host a small number of undergraduate students in the lab over the summer vacation, please contact me well in advance to discuss. For Kent Physics students I also supervise 1-2 undergraduate PH700 research projects each year, again please get in touch if you would like to discuss potential projects.