Surgical Imaging and Biophotonics


Professor Daniel Elson

415 Bessemer Building
South Kensington Campus

+44 (0) 20 7594 1700

What we do

Research interests are based around the development and application of photonics technology with endoscopy for surgical imaging applications, including multispectral imaging, polarization-resolved imaging, fluorescence imaging, and the use of fluorescently labelled gold nanorods for theranostics. Further projects include work on the development of illumination and vision systems for endoscopy combining miniature light sources such as LEDs and laser diodes with computer vision techniques for structured lighting and tissue surface reconstruction as well as the use of robotic guidance of optical probes. These devices are finding application in minimally invasive surgery and in the development of new flexible robotic assisted surgery systems. This research has been funded by the ERC, EPSRC, TSB, Wellcome Trust and the NIHR, as well as collaborations with industrial partners such as Karl Storz, Covidien, Cymtec and Intuitive Surgical.

Why it is important

Better surgical guidance can improve the accuracy of surgery, reducing the time and cost to complete an operation as well as improving the outcomes for the patient.

How it can benefit patients

If the detection and diagnosis of cancer can take place live at the same point as the surgery is performed then in some cases there may a better chance for complete clearance without a need for further surgery. A good example of this is in our GLOW study, as described in this article and this podcast.

Summary of current research

  • Multispectral imaging endoscopy: Multispectral imaging is involves collecting images of a target at different wavelengths to compile a spectrum for each pixel. We have developed endoscope and operating microscope systems that can be used in surgeries using standard clinical equipment and have translated these for in vivo use, including in humans. In surgical applications the device can detect ischaemia, although tissue motion artefacts need to be corrected using image alignment and deblurring algorithms developed with collaborators at UCL. We have worked with Mr Richard Smith’s team to monitor ischaemia during womb transplantation, and having recorded useful data during animal trials on sheep and rabbit models. We have also imaged many porcine small bowel samples during trials of a RF bowel anastomosis device, in collaboration with Covidien/Medtronic. We received ethics approval for imaging during human brain surgery in 2020.
  • Fluorescence and diffuse reflection spectroscopy probes: Fluorescence spectroscopy has been shown to be a promising approach for the analysis of diseased liver tissue.  It is a fast, objective and non-destructive method to detect change in the endogenous fluorophores distribution and could prove to be a valuable tool for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosis and transplant graft assessment. Data has recently been acquired at the site of thermal tissue fusion with an RF anastomosis device by incorporating the probe into the device jaws.
  • Multispectral structured lighting endoscopic probe: Three dimensional quantification of organ shape and structure during minimally-invasive surgery (MIS) could enhance precision by allowing the registration of multi-modal or pre-operative image data (US/MRI/CT) with the live optical image.  We are developing flexible endoscopic multispectral structured illumination probes that label each projected point with a specific wavelength using a supercontinuum laser. Recent work has used spot shape for surface normal detection and calibration free operation, including in vivo, to make the devices more compatible with surgery.
  • Polarisation resolved endoscopy: We have created a range of rigid endoscopic polarization (and wavelength) resolved imaging systems. These include simple cross-polarized imaging modalities, as well as full 3x3 and 4x4 Mueller matrix imaging, with either mono or stereo endoscopes. Creating the world’s first devices based on standard endoscopes has provided the possibility to rapidly translate the technology for imaging in vivo and ex vivo, the results of which suggest that the technique can reveal tissue microstructure and orientation, as well as enhancing the visibility of microvasculature. These aspects are being explored in the operating theatre, both on the back table and during imaging of peritoneal metastases.
  • Near infrared fluorescence imaging: Near infrared fluorescence can allow surgeons to target a particular tissue based on the accumulation of a contrast agent. Our home-built imaging system, called GLOW, consists of a camera device which uses illuminates a cancerous tumour during surgery and images the white light and near infrared fluorescence. This innovation will prevent people with breast cancer from having to endure another round of surgery. The adaptability of the camera system means that we can rapidly change the optical filtering to match different fluorophores and targets as they are developed. We are currently using the device in Breast Conserving Surgery with ICG and 5-ALA.

Tabs - Funders / Etc


Please click here for the latest publications

PhD Studentships

When we have funding for PhD studentships, we advertise them through central channels such as Find a and our own PhD Studentships page. If no studentships are currently advertised, please get in touch with the group lead with proposed project titles to discuss further. 

Funding opportunities: Imperial MRC DTP programme and President’s PhD Scholarships.

Lead Researchers