Detection and diagnostics

Our multi-disciplinary expertise covers the entire research and innovation process.

We have strength and capabilities in the following areas:

  • In vitro diagnostics
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Advanced imaging systems
  • Image analysis and artificial intelligence

In vitro diagnostics

Our capabilities range from developing and evaluating novel diagnostic assays and biosensors capabilities through to translating them into clinical settings.

We work closely with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leeds In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative to support this process through every stage.

Our diagnostic tools and devices

  • Biochemical assays and active molecular components for sensing applications
  • Non-antibody affinity reagent
  • Biosensor platforms
  • Microfluidics for sample handling and delivery solutions

Biochemical assays and active molecular components for sensing applications

Funded by UKRI and a range of other funding agencies, we are developing a range of difficult assays for clinical diagnostics, detection reagents such as nanoparticles and nanocrystals for high-sensitivity assays, and active molecular components such as organic substitutes for biosensors.

Non-antibody affinity reagents

The University of Leeds’ Bioscreening Technology Group (BSTG) has developed a non-antibody binding protein scaffold (Adhirons) for in vitro diagnostic applications, amongst others. The BSTG offers a phage display screening service to identify Adhiron-binding for a large range of targets ranging from small molecules to proteins and large macro molecules.

Biosensor platforms

We are developing a range of biosensor platforms using various electrochemical, electronic, acoustic and optical transducers with applications in clinical diagnostics in infection, cancer and musculoskeletal amongst others. We have extensive semi-conductor clean room facilities for device fabrication and infrastructure for analytical validation for diagnostics.

Microfluidics for sample handling and delivery solutions

We are developing microfluids solutions for all sample handling and sample delivery modalities for in vitro diagnostics, with a focus on point-of–care diagnostics and for various sample types including whole blood, saliva and serum/plasma.

Diagnostic imaging

Our centre for translational cardiovascular imaging links basic science, preclinical and clinical cardiovascular research (ePIC) in Leeds and promotes rapid translation from molecular to clinical cardiovascular research.

This state-of-the-art preclinical imaging centre is directed by Prof Jurgen E Schneider, and provides the latest generation of multi-modality imaging platforms, including:

  • a 7 Tesla MR system
  • a PET/SPECT/CT scanner
  • µCT and optical imaging
  • high frequency ultrasound. 
The mission of the centre is to bring about a step change in cardiovascular and biomedical research in Leeds and to offer unique translational research opportunities. ePIC is supported by a £1.9m award from British Heart Foundation award and £4m from the University of Leeds

Imaging modes and techniques

We have key strengths in the following imagining modes and techniques:

Magnetic resonance imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a versatile technology that provides sensitivity to a wide range of biologically relevant information. Techniques available include:

  • high-resolution anatomical imaging
  • T1 and T2 mapping for tissue characterisation
  • diffusion MRI for assessment of cellular microstructure
  • angiography for measurement of vessel flow
  • Dixon imaging for fat-water quantification
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) for metabolic imaging.

Positron emission tomography (PET)

Positron emission tomography (PET) is a functional imaging technique which uses molecular tracers labelled with positron emitting radioisotopes to target a biological process. In this method, emitted radioactivity is detected to form an image from the decay event, which represents the biological pathway to which the molecule is specific to.

Most commonly seen in oncology practices, the most widespread tracer used is fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), which is a glucose molecule labelled with 18F.

Like glucose, FDG follows metabolism pathways and accumulates in many forms of cancer due to the proliferative, energy-hungry nature of the disease.

PET can also be used to image neurological, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and is capable of monitoring disease progression and responses to therapy.

Computed tomography

Micro Computed Tomography (µCT) uses X-ray beams to acquire images at multiple angles around an object to create 3-dimensional image. In ePIC, we have in vivo SkyScan 1176 (Bruker, Belgium) scanner, which can acquire images with three different pixel size settings: 35, 18 and 9 µm. µCT can be used to obtain anatomical information of high density structures such as i.e. bones, heart and vessel microcalcification. However, with use of in vivo or ex vivo contrast agents it is possible to also visualise soft tissues and vasculature.

Optical imaging

We offer a 2D multi-modal optical imaging platform with a Bruker Xtreme II system. This allows imaging of up to five mice or three rats simultaneously. The Xtreme II allows five different modalities in a single co-registered system encompassing:

  • Bioluminescence imaging
  • Multispectral VIS-NIR Fluorescence imaging
  • Direct radioisotopic imaging
  • Cherenkov imaging
  • X-ray imaging. 

The system can be used with a wide range of optical reporters, radiotracers or X-ray agents (e.g. luciferase, fluorescent proteins, inorganic fluoropores, Cherenkov – 18F or non-Cherenkov – 99Tc isotopes, Barium, Visipaque or Exitron). The Xtreme II is housed in the radioactive imaging suite within ePIC.

High frequency ultrasound

We offer state-of-the-art ultra high-frequency sonographic ultrasound imaging with a Vevo2100 in-vivo ultrasound system from Visualsonics (Fujifilm). The high-frequency transducers allow in-vivo resolution down to 30 microns.

Standard B-mode and M-mode imaging is available alongside pulse-wave Doppler and colour Doppler, ECG-gated Kilohertz Visualisation mode and 3D imaging with cardiac and respiratory gating. This imaging platform is non-invasive, requires no ionising radiation and is ideal for longitudinal studies.

Advanced imaging systems

Our researchers have led pioneering work in the areas of:

Terahertz electronics and photonics

Terahertz (THz) frequencies (300GHz–10THz) span the gap in the electromagnetic spectrum between the millimetre/microwave electronic technologies used at lower frequencies, and the mid-infrared optic/opto-electronic techniques employed at higher frequencies.

Our researchers are playing a pivotal role in developing THz science and technology. For example, we are investigating imaging and spectroscopy applications, ranging from the study of pharmaceuticals and drugs-of-abuse to biological systems, such as proteins and tissues for cancer diagnostics.

Medical magnetocardiography (MCG)

Our researchers, led by Prof Ben Varcoe, have developed an advanced medical magnetometer. The QI Magnetometer can rapidly identify healthy (non-cardiac) patients, addressing two significant unmet healthcare and clinical needs in cardiology:

  • To rule out CAD, including stable and unstable angina and MI, in patients presenting with chest pain. Currently, only 13% of patients with chest pain are discharged within 4 hours of arrival; and around 75% of patients with chest pain of a non-cardiac origin are inappropriately triaged through the chest pain pathway. 
  • Prevent inappropriate discharge of patients with a missed MI; around 2%-4% of patients with evolving MI are discharged from the emergency department because of normal electrocardiogram (ECG) findings. 

This represents a step change in clinical capability. It will revolutionise the rapid diagnosis of CAD, filtering out those who do not need to be in the care a dedicated cardiology team quickly and efficiently. It will allow clinical teams to focus their effort on those patients who are most in need and reduce waiting times. This will lead to significant cost savings and improved health care.

The Magnetometer Model 1.0 (V1) is a prototype, developed using academic research funding at the University of Leeds and currently being used in a clinical study, also funded by a grant to the University. Quantum Imaging (QI) Ltd is developing Magnetometer Model 2.0 (V2), which can be easily deployed in an acute medical setting. Quantum Imaging Ltd was spun out from the University of Leeds to commercialise the technology.

Ultrasound

Our research covers all aspects of Ultrasound including:

  • medical imaging
  • medical therapeutics
  • modelling of physical phenomena
  • non-destructive evaluation and test
  • ultrasonic instrumentation development.

The Ultrasound Array Research Platform is a bespoke hardware system developed by readers at the University of Leeds led by Prof Steven Freear, to facilitate research into novel ultrasonic techniques that require the use of multi-element array transducers. Its associated intellectual property (IP) is widely used on several biomedical and industrial research projects.

Image analysis and artificial intelligence

Our research has greater impact through working in multi-disciplinary teams, spanning other engineering disciplines, clinicians, large and small companies and the public-sector. Through these collaborations we are helping to transform health care and medical diagnosis.

Our research embeds fundamental developments in algorithms and cutting edge computational techniques within an end-user driven framework. Our areas of expertise includes fast and efficient numerical algorithms for partial differential equations (PDEs), computer graphics, as well as scientific and information visualization.

Our research covers a range of applied topics in biology, medicine and health. We:

  • construct computational models of biological systems
  • collaborate with pathologists to make breakthroughs in 3D imaging and digital microscopy
  • deliver novel designs for bio-inspired autonomous agents
  • develop secure systems architectures, data mining and visual analytics methods for Big Data. 
In the health domain, we have a new UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence for Medical Diagnosis and Care and play a leading role in the new Northern Pathology Imaging Co-Operative.