Nanocomposite materials for sensing in next-generation minimally-invasive medical devices

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Medical Physics and Biomedical Eng

Abstract

My vision for the EPSRC UKRI Innovation Fellowship is to create a new generation of cutting-edge medical devices for minimally-invasive surgeries, using Materials Chemistry innovations. The devices I will develop will provide improved imaging for guidance and diagnosis during surgeries, as well as precise device locations for example, in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided interventions. These devices will improve the safety and efficiency of minimally-invasive procedures, and help to reduce the risk of associated complications. One of my key objectives is to translate this healthcare technologies research from academia to pre-clinical validation, providing patient benefits through improved healthcare diagnostics and treatments. Through clinical and industrial collaboration, I will take the healthcare technologies developed during this Fellowship from the benchtop to pre-clinical validation, and establish the most appropriate pathways for commercialisation.

Over the course of the Fellowship I will work towards developing a portfolio of medical devices. The two key devices that I will focus on are:
1) A fibre-optic magnetic field sensor: This miniature sensor will be incorporated into medical devices to facilitate their tracking via magnetic sensing.
2) A fibre-optic ultrasound transmitter with photoacoustic (PA) imaging functionality: This miniature ultrasound transmitter and a fibre-optic ultrasound receiver will be integrated into medical devices to help guide minimally-invasive surgical procedures through ultrasound imaging, providing visualisation of clinically-relevant tissue structures with structural and molecular contrast.

The fibre-optic magnetic sensors will be fabricated by creating elastomeric membranes that are highly deformable in the presence of a magnetic field. These will be developed by incorporating nanoscale magnetic particles into elastomers, and using a range of coating techniques to create micron-scale, freestanding membranes. These membranes will be fabricated into fibre-optic sensors that can be integrated into needles and catheters used for minimally-invasive surgeries. When placed within an MRI-scanner, these devices will respond to changes in the magnetic field in the presence of different gradients, enabling precise device tracking. This technology will open up new avenues for MRI-guided interventions.

The fibre-optic ultrasound transmitter with PA imaging functionality will be created using specially engineered coatings deposited onto optical fibres. These coatings will be designed to strongly absorb visible light within specific wavelength regions for ultrasound generation, and demonstrate transparency to light of other wavelengths for PA imaging. Combined with a fibre-optic ultrasound receiver designed at UCL, this miniature imaging system will be integrated into medical devices used to perform minimally-invasive surgical interventions, for example, cardiovascular procedures. The fibre-optic imaging system will provide unparalleled image guidance from within the needle used to perform the surgery, reducing the risk of complications. The combined ultrasound and PA imaging will provide clinicians with information on tissue structure, as well as molecular information i.e. where lipid rich (fatty) regions are. The latter, can be important for diagnosis and monitoring of atherosclerotic plaques, which are a key cause of cardiovascular disease. Next-generation devices will incorporate both magnetic sensing and ultrasound imaging capabilities, to enable ultrasound-guided interventions, with precise device tracking.

The materials technologies developed will also be translated onto centimetre-scale ultrasound sensors to create a handheld, wide-field all-optical imaging system that can provide three-dimensional combined ultrasound and PA imaging. Potential applications of this system include the detection of head-and-neck cancers, as well as peripheral vascular disease.

Planned Impact

This research is focused on developing new materials for medical devices, to introduce imaging and guidance modalities to improve safety and efficiency in minimally-invasive surgeries. These cutting-edge healthcare technologies greatly benefit the clinical community. The use of Materials Chemistry innovations in Medical Physics technologies such as all-optical ultrasound transmitters, has already rapidly advanced their development, resulting in miniature devices that achieve high ultrasound pressures and wide bandwidths. These properties correspond to high spatial resolution in imaging applications. This research has attracted significant interest from the scientific community, culminating in high impact publications. The Materials Chemistry innovations developed in this Fellowship research will likewise facilitate the advancement of medical device technologies, and will attract much interest from the immediate research community, as well as feed into other research areas where thickness controlled nanocomposites are utilised. I will also set up a Scientific workshop on Materials for Healthcare Technologies to bring together Researchers, Clinicians and industry representatives. This will be of great benefit to all attendees, as it will provide a platform to form critical collaborations to advance the development of healthcare technologies.

The development of optical magnetic sensors and miniature multimodality imaging devices will be of great benefit to the NHS; The improved visualisation and tracking capabilities enabled by these medical devices will result in improved patient outcomes in minimally-invasive surgeries through enhanced surgical precision, reduced procedural times and risks of complications. This will reduce NHS costs of surgical interventions, as well as potential costs of corrective surgeries. The devices will also benefit clinicians, providing cutting-edge imaging modalities to guide minimally-invasive surgeries, facilitating treatment and diagnosis. In particular, the proposed multimodality imaging device will enable visualisation of tissue with molecular contrast, and have applications for example, in cardiology, to enhance the identification of atherosclerotic plaques, a key cause of cardiovascular disease. The research achieved through this fellowship will consequently impact on the public through improved health.

Currently, there is a drive towards performing surgeries with minimal invasiveness and to achieve this, improved image guidance, diagnostic and tracking technologies are crucial. The proposed research will contribute to strengthening the UK's position in cutting-edge surgical interventions, as well as as a leader in healthcare technologies. The proposed technologies are reliant upon UK expertise in lasers, e.g. ElforLight (UK laser manufacturer) and the clinical translation of these technologies will boost UK industry in this sector. Moreover, the UK is a hub for Nanotechnology and Materials Science innovations and it is envisaged that the development and manufacture of the composite materials required for developing these devices will remain in the UK. This will benefit both the UK Nanotechnology and polymer industries.

Lastly, passionate about public engagement, during this Fellowship I plan to be involved in open days, science festivals and other scientific engagement events. I have previously co-organised an exhibit for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and was inspired by the enthusiasm and interest of the public regarding cutting-edge healthcare technologies. I plan to continue engaging with the public during this Fellowship to showcase research outputs. I will also train up a team of volunteers-for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition this was >30 people. This will provide the volunteers with skills needed for science engagement, enabling them to continue disseminating research on the public stage.
 
Description Science Museum Half Term week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibited our research at a stall for the Science Museum Half Term week activities 2020 in the newly opened medical gallery. We communicated our research to at least 800 people over 2 days. It was a mixed public ranging from toddlers, school children to parents and other interested adults. The stall inspired the young children and sparked a lot of interest about the general research theme and how the technology worked.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Science Museum Lates January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibited our research at a stall for the Science Museum Lates 2020 (celebrated opening of new medical gallery). We communicated our research to at least 590 people over 2 stalls (one directly associated with this project). The public was over 18s and the stall sparked lots of interesting questions and discussions on the research exhibited. We have been asked to exhibit our research in the upcoming Science Museum half term week events to engage with schoolchildren.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020