National Physical Laboratory

Biomedical

Optical diagnostic tools offer unique non-invasive methods for understanding tissue health coupled with the additional benefits of time saving and reduced costs in medical environments. NPL is focusing on research into 'traceable diagnostics' to bridge the gap between pathology and metrology. In collaboration with clinical institutes and manufacturers of diagnostic equipment, NPL is developing new techniques in the general field of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to measure the optical properties of human tissue and relate these parameters to the presence and progress of disease. This involves the development of novel instrumentation, advanced tissue optic models and optical tissue phantoms.

OCT is a non-invasive imaging technique based upon low coherence interferometry. Imaging of biological tissue was first demonstrated in 1991 at MIT. To date, much focus has been on developing light sources and detection schemes to improve the resolution, sensitivity and imaging speed of OCT systems. These are now pushing towards real-time, three-dimensional, cellular level imaging of human tissue morphology that has potential use in clinical diagnostics.

However, qualitative imaging of tissue morphology is of limited clinical use. Therefore, NPL's research is focused on harnessing the advantages of OCT (speed, sensitivity and resolution) to acquire quantitative information about tissue optical properties, including spatial refractive index, dispersion, absorption and scattering. As such, NPL has developed, and continue to develop, a number of novel OCT based measurement techniques for characterising the optical properties of human tissue including advanced matrix based data processing and multi-angular acquisition. Quantitative analysis can reveal information regarding tissue function and health. In fact, changes in tissue optical properties can occur some time before the symptomatic changes in morphology and therefore provide early diagnostic information and observations of fundamental biological processes.

NPL is also investigating other optical modalities to complement the quantitative data obtained using OCT based methods and applying this work to non-biological samples also.

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