Centre for Inflammation Research

Dr Gareth Williams

Translation of optical technologies, including fluorescence lifetime and Raman imaging, to enable minimally invasive characterisation of tissue and disease. Frugal innovation of advanced technologies for disease detection, and treatment.

Dr Gareth Williams

Chancellors Fellow in Translational Healthcare Technology / Undergraduate Fellow, Edinburgh Futures Institute

Group Members

  • Hazel Stuart - Technology builder for photonics technology
  • Syam Mohan - Postdoctoral Research Fellow in frugal medical device design
  • Zuzanna Konieczna - PhD Student (co-supervisor)

Background

Photonics technologies have the potential to provide a pathway to rapid, minimally invasive, low-cost disease detection and treatment. Established optical techniques such as fluorescence lifetime imaging can provide a wealth of information on molecular environment and tissue make up, particularly in the area of cancer assessment, whilst Raman imaging has the potential for detailed tissue characterisation.  Coupled with extrinsic probes targeting specific moieties, these techniques provide for a multiplexed toolbox to tackle disease.

Until recently the translation of these technologies into the clinical environment has proved challenging in areas of the body that are hard to reach, such as the distal lung. The recent development of optical fibre-based micro-endoscopy has enabled the use of spectroscopic optical techniques deep inside the body in areas such as the lung. These technologies enable the ability to image and analyse in situ a host of disease states, and the interaction of drugs with their target can be tracked in real time. 

Whilst these technologies are finally approaching translation into clinical settings the cost is high, there is a pressing need for the development of low-cost approaches to early-stage detection of diseases common in low-middle income countries, the rise of cheap electronics and light sources and computing devices is enabling rapid growth in the field of optical detection at a price point that can have truly global impact.

Research Overview

We develop new photonics-based imaging and sensing platforms with a focus on the translation of these into the healthcare space. By its very nature, our work is interdisciplinary with interfaces with groups in optics, engineering, chemistry, biology, clinical, software and machine learning and commercial specialties.

A particular focus is the use of fluorescence lifetime imaging to interrogate both intrinsic fluorescence lifetime properties of tissue, such as driven by the onset of cancer, and the use of extrinsic probes to enlist detailed information on the presence of pathogens or monitor biological processes. The use of advanced optical fibre imaging techniques allows for application of these techniques to imaging of the lungs though micro-endoscopy, and the translation of these technologies through ex-vivo models to first in human trials. We are currently assisting in the translation of two fluorescence imaging system into clinical trials for lung imaging, initially in Edinburgh before expansion to multi-site. We are expanding the use of our optical fingerprinting techniques to new disease states and organs, including the study of the formation of the plaques associated with brain disorders (including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) in collaboration with the School of Chemistry.

Furthermore, we are exploring routes to enable frugal translation of fluorescence imaging technologies for translation to low-middle income countries through collaboration with partners such as the Aravind eye care system for the detection of corneal infection. A key goal of this work is to collaborate with biological and chemistry teams to develop photonic-based therapies alongside optical detection for rapid photodynamic therapy applications.

Collaborations for the applications of photonic sensing (Fluorescence (Lifetime)/ Raman) and imaging are welcome.

 

Fluorescence lifetime image human lung tissue with a plot of data contained within each pixel.
A fluorescence lifetime image of a slice of human lung tissue containing mostly healthy tissue (right side) transitioning to more cancerous tissue (left side). This is taken at a single wavelength from a data cube of 512 time resolved wavelength channels which were acquired simultaneously on a custom-built microscope. The graph shows the full data taken for a single pixel showing temporal, wavelength and intensity information.

Biographical Profile

Dr Gareth Williams graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master's degree in chemical physics with industrial experience in 2008. He went on to be awarded a PhD at the University of Edinburgh with extended placement at the Max-Plank Institute for the Science of Light in Germany, for the study of fluorescence and photochemistry within the confines photonic crystal fibre cores. This work led to the development of new opto-microfluidic systems for the study of high-sensitivity (atto-molar for fluorescence detection) solution phase optically driven processes and kinetics through various spectroscopies. Following his PhD, Dr Williams won a competitive EPSRC postdoctoral prize fellowship position enabling the continuation of his work with photonic crystal fibres and their application to photonic driven reactions and the validation of new sensitisers for photodynamic therapy via the direct, in-fibre generation and detection of singlet oxygen. Dr Williams went on to develop a spectroscopic method for the determination of the quality of the cuticle on a poultry eggshell, in collaboration with two major hen breeding companies for the assisted selection for increased cuticle quality. This work led to the formation of a spin out company.

In 2016 Dr Williams joined the Centre for Inflammation research as part of a large interdisciplinary collaboration to develop real time in-vivo, in-situ imaging within the human lung.  He was instrumental in the production of a novel multi-colour fluorescence lifetime imaging platform constructed for translation into a clinical environment which is undergoing regulatory approval.  Dr Williams received a chancellors fellowship in 2020 at the Centre for Inflammation Research for the development and translation of new photonics-based healthcare technologies and their application to new targets, along with being an ongoing researcher co-investigator on several large programs including the Proteus “Next steps plus for photonic pathogen theragnostics” (EPSRC) for the development of frugal technologies, and is involved in a new spin-out company for the translation of new photonics technologies to market. Dr Williams was seconded to the Edinburgh Futures Institute in 2021 for the development of a new cross-University interdisciplinary undergraduate program.

Collaborators

  • Kev Dhaliwal - Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh
  • Ahsan Akram - Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh
  • Neil Finlayson - University of Edinburgh
  • James Stone - University of Bath
  • Robert Thompson - Heriot Watt University
  • Mathew Horroks - University of Edinburgh
  • John Gikin - Durham University
  • Robert Henderson - University of Edinburgh
  • Aravind Eyecare System, India

Publications

Williams GOS, Williams E, Finlayson N, et al. Full spectrum fluorescence lifetime imaging with 0.5 nm spectral and 50 ps temporal resolution. Nat Commun 12, 6616 (2021).

Mills B, Megia-Fernandez A, Norberg D, Duncan S, Marshall A, Akram AR, Quin T, Young I, Bruce IM, Scholefield E, Williams GOS, et al. Molecular detection of Gram-positive bacteria in the human lung through an optical fiber–based endoscope. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging 48, 800–807 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00259-020-05021-4

Fernandes S, Williams G, Williams E, et al. Solitary pulmonary nodule imaging approaches and the role of optical fibre-based technologies. European Respiratory Journal 57: 2002537 (2021).

Krstajić N, Mills B, Murray I, Marshall A, Norberg D, Craven TH, Emanuel P, Choudhary TR, Williams GOS, et al. Low-cost high sensitivity pulsed endomicroscopy to visualize tricolor optical signatures. J Biomed Opt. Jul;23(7):1-12 (2018).

Funding

  • Chancellors Fellowship
  • Research Co-Investigator, Proteus and Proteus Next Steps (EPSRC (EP/R005257/1, EP/R018669/1

More information on funding at Gareth Williams' Research Explorer profile.