Dr Michael Hughes is a lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy and a member of the Applied Optics Group, where he develops photonics techniques for applications in biosciences and medicine. His lab currently focuses on new ways of building thin, flexible endoscopic and needle microscopes – miniature probes that allow us to visualise living tissue in real time. Michael is also interested in developing novel, low-cost microscopes for point-of-care and low-resource imaging.
Michael began his career at Durham University, graduating in 2006 with an MSci in Physics. He moved south to Canterbury for his PhD to work on a joint project with the British Museum, the National Gallery and NTU, developing applications of optical coherence tomography (OCT) in art conservation and archaeology. Changing direction slightly, he 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, Michael took up the position of Research Associate in Biophotonics at the Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London, where he developed endomicroscopy systems for applications in surgery, and later became a Hamlyn Fellow. He moved to the University of Kent as a lecturer in 2017 to develop a research programme in point-of-care and endoscopic microscopy.
Dr Michael Hughes’s lab is focused on high resolution, in-vivo optical imaging (optical biopsy), a technique that allows the imaging of 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, Michael worked as part of a team on an EPSRC-funded project developing new endomicroscopy technology to aid more widespread clinical adoption. In particular, they worked on methods for improving the image resolution and field of view, enabling them to characterise larger areas of tissue. He developed high frame rate endomicroscopes (120 fps) which offer depth sectioning using the line scanning technique, allowing better assembly of mosaics (ie the stitching together of images) even when the endomicroscope probe is moved rapidly across the tissue. The team also showed that they could enhance the optical sectioning to near that of a point-scanning confocal endomicroscope using a two-step technique.
Michael 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. They 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. Michael has 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, Michael holds 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 his 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.
Michael works on another EPSRC project, ‘REBOT – Robotic Endobronchial Optical Tomography‘, a collaboration with Imperial College London where he was originally researcher co-investigator. In this project they are developing a robotic catheter equipped with multi-modal imaging systems for investigations in the lung.
Michael is involved with teaching in the areas of astronomy and special relativity, electricity and light, and biomedical optics.
Dr Hughes is always happy to speak with potential MSc and PhD candidates (for degrees in Physics) about self-funded study or applying for external funding. Funded positions are advertised when available.
Dr Hughes is also able to host a small number of undergraduate students in the lab over the summer vacation; please contact him well in advance to discuss.