Physicists receive Royal Society award to widen access to 3D imaging technique


Biomedical imaging pioneers have been awarded 30,000 GBP to investigate bringing low-cost 3D imaging to the mainstream.

The technology, developed by Professor Paul French and Dr James McGinty, is based on optical projection tomography (or OPT). It provides 3D images of large tissue samples at faster speeds than is possible with standard microscopes.

Developed in the Photonics Group in the Department of Physics at Imperial, their approach exploits recent advances in light sources, camera technology and imaging processing to quickly provide 3D images of transparent samples.

These include chemically-treated biological tissues that would otherwise need to be cut up for 3D analysis. This enables delicate structures to be imaged intact and has been applied to studies of diabetes and cancer at Imperial.

“OPT is essentially the optical equivalent of X-ray CT scans and our approach, which can be implemented with low cost, off-the-shelf components together with our open source software, could provide the 3D imaging capabilities of OPT for less than the cost of a standard fluorescence microscope,” said Professor French. “This award will hopefully allow us to put it in the hands of many more researchers.”

The team are using this award to develop prototype low-cost instruments for ex vivo tissue studies that they aim to test in biomedical research labs at Imperial College London and the Francis Crick Institute.

In other projects they are working with colleagues at Imperial and UCL to extend their OPT technology to imaging of transparent organisms such as zebrafish, exploring the potential to help medical researchers trace diseases from cancer to inflammation and infections as they progress throughout the body.

The technique has already been tested in partnership with the Department of Life Sciences to track programmed cell death, an important process for cancer and other diseases, using fluorescently labelled cells in a live zebrafish.

The Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Feasibility Award is given to help scientists scope out the technical and economic feasibility of commercialising their research. The prize was presented at the annual Royal Society Labs to Riches event last month in London.

The Brian Mercer Awards were established by the Society in 2001 as the result of a bequest received from Dr Brian Mercer OBE FRS (1927-1998). Dr Mercer was an enthusiastic inventor and entrepreneur and these awards aim to encourage these qualities in the next generation of scientists. 



Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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