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Ultrafast lasers for high precision surgical applications (EPS2022/21)

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Prof J D Shephard  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The world's population is growing rapidly but at the same time it is ageing. With this comes a driving force for the increase in the prevalence of cancer. A highly effective strategy to combat cancer has been improvements in screening programmes which are detecting disease at a much earlier stage when it is still curable. Such types of early-stage disease lend itself to minimally invasive surgery with potential advantages for reduced morbidity and enables better preservation of normal function.

It is accepted that the use of such minimally invasive, high precision surgery will continue to grow. However, in order to deliver this, novel surgical tools need to be developed. This includes tools for real-time diagnosis of cancer that can be coupled with ablative and excisional modalities to eradicate the disease. Combined diagnostic and ablative tools will enable microscopic disease to be detected, particularly at cancer margins where infiltrative growth is difficult to distinguish from normal tissue. Failure to eradicate such microscopic disease is usually the cause for treatment failure and cancer recurrence.

We have recently shown that ultrashort, picosecond pulsed lasers can provide significant advantages for high precision, minimally invasive surgery compared to conventional electrocautery tools or utilising continuous wave or long pulsed lasers which can induce high degrees of thermal damage. By combining a range of characterisation techniques such as high-speed imaging, surface profilometry and histopathological analysis of the laser ablated regions we have gained deeper understanding into the dynamics of the plasma-mediated ablation revealing subtleties about the process allowing us to improve precision and minimise collateral thermal damage.

This PhD project will focus on exploring novel technologies that can move towards the realisation of a practical surgical tool. This can include modelling and experimentation of laser/tissue interactions in the ultrafast regime, novel beam delivery and beam shaping technologies and developing complementary optical monitoring and sensing technologies. Additionally, the developed technologies will be investigated experimentally on clinically relevant tissue models within our optics laboratory allowing them to be moved towards the clinical environment. The ultimate aim would be to combine the work in this PhD with other technologies currently being developed with an aim to the realise new surgical procedures for more complete removal of disease from delicate and vital structures within the human body.

The PhD project would be part of the current, EPSRC funded effort at Heriot-Watt University to address this major healthcare challenge and hence will be supported by the resources, both in terms of equipment and manpower, associated with large EPSRC grants and facilities such as the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre ( at Heriot Watt. We have a multidisciplinary team of physical scientists, engineers, laser specialists, and clinicians which are working to address this shortfall in surgical hardware precision and hence we are looking for scientists and engineers to join this team and contribute to this challenging yet exciting field.

How to Apply

1. Important Information before you Apply

When applying through the Heriot-Watt on-line system please ensure you provide the following information:

(a) in ‘Study Option’

You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’. ‘Programme’ presents you with a drop-down menu. Choose Chemistry PhD, Physics PhD, Chemical Engineering PhD, Mechanical Engineering PhD, Bio-science & Bio-Engineering PhD or Electrical PhD as appropriate and select September 2022 for study option (this can be updated at a later date if required)

(b) in ‘Research Project Information’

You will be provided with a free text box for details of your research project. Enter Title and Reference number of the project for which you are applying and also enter the potential supervisor’s name.

This information will greatly assist us in tracking your application.

Please note that once you have submitted your application, it will not be considered until you have uploaded your CV and transcripts.

Funding Notes

There are a number of scholarships available which offer funding from between 3 and 3.5 years at an average stipend rate of £15,000 per year.
This PhD is aligned with current funded work
EPSRC “PreCisE: A Precision laser scalpel for Cancer diagnostics and Eradication” EP/V006185/1
EPSRC “3D Laser Beam Shaping: The True Potential of Laser Based Manufacturing” EP/V006312/1


Dynamics of picosecond laser ablation for surgical treatment of colorectal cancer
RJ Beck et al. Scientific Reports 10 (1), 1-10, 2020
A miniature fibre-optic raman probe fabricated by ultrafast laser-assisted etching
CA Ross et al. Micromachines 11 (2), 185, 6, 2020

Preclinical evaluation of porcine colon resection using hollow core negative curvature fibre delivered ultrafast laser pulses
SMPC Mohanan et al. Journal of biophotonics 12 (11), e201900055, 2019

Silica hollow core microstructured fibers for beam delivery in industrial and medical applications
JD Shephard et al. Frontiers in Physics 3, 24, 2015
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