September 2014 Lab of the Month - The PROTEUS Project

For September 2014 we are not featuring a single lab, but the multidisciplinary team working on the PROTEUS Project based in the Queen's Medical Research Institute at Little France.  

The PROTEUS Project is the UK’s largest optical imaging Project geared towards clinical application.  Funded by £11.5M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Project launched in October 2013 and will run for five years.

Lighting up the lung in situ and in real time

Over the next five years the PROTEUS team will be working to develop a groundbreaking Fibre-based Optical Sensing and Imaging Platform (FOSIP) which aims to significantly improve the diagnostic pathway for patients suffering from life-threatening pulmonary infections. 

Up until now it has been very difficult to obtain data on events deep in the distal lung of critically ill patients, yet this is where the most serious pathology is often found, and which is responsible for a high proportion of deaths in intensive care units. 

The team hope that for the first time this technology will give clinicians real-time and in-situ information about the physiology and pathology of the distal lung in critically ill patients.  Having more details about a patient’s condition will allow more informed treatment tailored to individual circumstances, and crucially help avoid the administration of unnecessary medication.

PROTEUS hub leader Kev Dhaliwal says

“'We are faced with the biggest challenge of modern medicine, the rise of multidrug resistant infections that demand better diagnosis, basic understanding and treatment. We need to know what is happening in the distal lung in our patients.  We have amassed a team across many disciplines from astronomy to maching learning to answer this problem.”.

Optical sensing of pathological and physiological markers in the distal lung

The key innovation in FOSIP is that it has two technologies integrated into a single device:  thus clinicians will be able to image pathology, including infection, in distal lung tissue, coupled with sensing of key physiological parameters, coupled with an ambition to perform this in both distal lung tissue and the peripheral blood of critically ill patients.

The innovative technology being developed by the Project will be comprised of thousands of individual microfibres arranged into a specified configuration, with a final diameter of approximately 1 mm.  This fibre will be fed into the lung and carefully guided in to the intra-alveolar space and be inserted into patients' peripheral blood via standard blood-lines.

L to R:  Fluorescent images of SmartProbes being tested both in vivo and in vitro

A dedicated channel in the fibre will allow clinicians to deliver minute quantities of specialised “SmartProbes” to particular sites deep in the patients’ lungs.  These novel SmartProbes are being designed to detect the presence of specific biomarkers associated with bacterial infection, inflammation and fibrosis, which can then be imaged via the optical fibre.  

To measure physiological parameters such as pH and oxygen saturation, the tips of some of the individual microfibres in the new fibre will be modified to carry chemical sensors which can be detected using surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy.

The PROTEUS team

To deliver this ambitious project a very talented team of multidisciplinary researchers has been assembled.  The consortium is based at the University of Edinburgh, with key contributions from colleagues at Heriot Watt University and the University of Bath. 

The Project Director is Professor Mark Bradley (R top) from the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, and the Hub team based at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute at Little France, is led by Dr Kev Dhaliwal (R bottom) from the Centre for Inflammation Research

The consortium has 10 co-investigators and 16 postdocs, all with world-class track records in fibre optic research, chemical synthesis, sensing and imaging, signal processing, machine learning and clinical care.   With so many different people scattered over different campuses, the whole team is coordinated by the Project Manager, Dr Anne Moore.

Director of the PROTEUS Project:  Prof Mark Bradley, University of Edinburgh 

  • Mark heads the EPSRC and MRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Optical Medical Imaging and is an European Research Council Advanced Grant holder.  His work has focussed on the application of the tools of chemistry with the synthesis of materials and molecules to address and solve bio-medical questions and problems, resulting in over 300 publications.  Mark now co-leads the team of chemists and medical biologists specifically to create novel fluorescent “Smart Probes” which will be used in the FOSIP technology.

PROTEUS Project Hub team leader:  Dr Kev Dhaliwal, University of Edinburgh

  • Kev is a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Pulmonary Molecular Imaging and an Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. He sub-specialises in Pulmonary Infection and Tuberculosis.  He works in the Centre for Inflammation Research with a bench to bedside ethos and has co-led the medical team over the last 5 years developing Smartprobes. He has an interest in host-pathogen interactions and the development of Optical Molecular Imaging. He performs translational research in collaboration with the Intensive Care Unit developing and applying novel non-invasive methodologies for imaging and sensing infection and inflammation.

Co-investigators at the University of Edinburgh:

(For more information about the investigators, clink on the link which will take you to pages on the PROTEUS website with more information about each person.)

  • Dr Colin Campbell –Senior Lecturer in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry – Nanonsensors for physiological parameters such as pH and redox potential
  • Professor Chris Haslett – Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Director of the Queen’s Medical Research Institute – Lead for integrative imaging strategy in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.  
  • Dr Robert Henderson – Reader at the School of Engineering in the Institute for Microelectronics and Nanosystems – Development of single photon sensors for clinical application
  • Professor Tim Walsh – Professor of Critical Care – Clinical implementation and facilitator of UK-wide exposure of PROTEUS technology
  • Professor Chris Williams – Professor of Machine Learning in the School of Informatics – Development of data inference techniques and tools to allow practical clinical implementation

Co-investigators at Heriot Watt University:

  • Professor Rory Duncan – Professor of Biophysics and Head of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (IB3) – Quantitative fluorescence live cell imaging
  • Dr Paul Dalgarno – Lecturer in the Institute for Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering – Applying astronomy-derived techniques to life-science applications to investigate methods for exploiting novel fibre capabilities
  • Professor Stephen McLaughlin – Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences – Signal processing in biomedical systems
  • Dr Robert Thomson – STFC Advanced Fellow and Reader in Physics within the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) – Photonics based instrumentation and ultrafast laser inscription

Co-investigators at the University of Bath:

  • Professor Tim Birks – Professor of Physics – Developing sophisticated multiplex multi-core fibre structures for clinical applications
  • Professor Jonathan Knight – Professor in the Department of Physics – Designing and fabricating the novel fibres used in endoscopes for use in critical care environments

And a talented team of postdocs is working in all three centres to deliver the project:

  • Debaditya Choudhury – Novel uses of laser inscription technologies
  • Paul McCool – Development of signal processing techniques and texture analysis of acquired images
  • Nikola Krstajić – Medical instrumentation
  • Ioulia Mati – Nanosensor development
  • Sarah McAughtrie – Smart chemistries for medical application
  • Ettore Pedretti – Development of instrumentation to observe bacteria in the distal lung based on astronomical techniques
  • Antonios Perperidis – Advanced processing of medical images
  • James Stone – Optimisation of optical fibre configuration
  • Michael Tanner – Optimizing novel fibre probes for clinical application and advanced spectroscopy
  • Richard Walker – Sensor technology
  • Fei Yu – Design and fabrication techniques to create innovative wave guiding structures

Some of the PROTEUS team postdocs hard at work!

Public Engagement with PROTEUS

A crucial aspect to the PROTEUS Project is to engage the public with the work.  As the Project progresses it will become increasingly important for patients to understand the potential benefits of the research and how they might be affected by it. 

Already Helen Szoor-McElhinney, the engagment strategist on the team, has been running events at various venues, including the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, where visitors can see some of the prototype devices and meet with members of the research staff.  As the Project prepares to carry out its initial first-in-man clinical study in 2015, further public engagement will be crucial to the overall success of the Project.  

The First Milestone Birthday Bash

The Project will reaches its first birthday in October 2014, and the team will be hosting the EPSRC PROTEUS Showcase event on 22 October 2014.  The event will be held at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh, from 10.45 am – 3 pm.  

And finally, why PROTEUS?

Back in 2013 the team took on the challenge to create an inspiring name for the pioneering Project.  A member of the team, Professor Tim Birks was intrigued by the idea behind the 1966 film “Fantastic Voyage”, where a group scientists is miniaturised then embark on a mission to save the life of a fellow scientist by traveling through his body to relieve a blood clot.   The Team all agreed that PROTEUS, which is the name of the submarine carrying the Fantastic Voyage scientists on their perilous mission, was a fitting and inspiring name for their own new Project.

The submarine from the Fantastic Voyage on its own journey of discovery

For more information about the PROTEUS Project

Links to previously featured "Labs of the Month"

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