Together Tyndall celebrates the winners and finalists of the 2020 Postgraduate Publication of the Year.
Despite a challenging a year, our students achieved outstanding discoveries and results as part of their PhD projects, some even opening major new possibilities in their field.
Dr. Fatima Gunning, Senior Staff Researcher & Head of Graduate Studies at Tyndall, praised the entries, saying: “This year we had twice as many submissions for the Postgraduate Research Publication of Year. Besides lockdowns and restricted access to labs, our students excelled in their research outcomes. We also noted a number of students with exceptional publications at very early stages in their PhDs, and we couldn’t let this pass in blank, so we created a new award - the Rising Talent Award. Congratulations to all!"
"Evaluation of wavelength ranges and tissue depth probed by diffuse reflectance spectroscopy for colorectal cancer detection."
1. What encouraged you to submit your application to the 2020 Postgraduate Research Publication of the Year?
Anyone who is carrying out research to generate technologies that have the potential to improve patient healthcare have a duty of increasing public awareness of such research. The 2020 Postgraduate Research Publication of the Year competition was one of the opportunities to do just that, especially considering the work resulted in a novel and impactful paper published in a Nature journal. If the public and other researchers are aware of our results, the developed technology may be adopted by companies faster and used in the clinic sooner, for the benefit of patients. Of course, receiving more attention from companies interested in using the expertise of the Biophotonics team at Tyndall can benefit Tyndall, IPIC, as well as research centres and health institutions involved.
2. What inspired you to choose the subject of your paper?
I was primarily driven by my responsibility to show the research community that light-based tools for colorectal cancer detection can be optimized by using the specific equipment specifications and machine learning algorithms I have studied. I wanted to inspire researchers to take the same optimization approach for disease detection and surgical guidance in other areas of the body, while reporting something useful to the community.
3. What’s your paper about and how did you prepare for it? What role did research excellence play in your approach?
In short, our paper showed which combination of instrument specifications and machine learning methods improved the accuracy of detection of colorectal cancer (CRC). CRC is the third most common type of cancer worldwide and the second most deadly. Clinical interventions have been significantly improved by recent advances in devices for diagnostics and surgical guidance. However, most of the current imaging technologies provide primarily tissue morphological and/or structural information, which is only detectable at a late stage in the disease.
To prevent deaths by CRC, we built a tool for non-invasive and early CRC detection as well as accurate CRC delineation for its complete removal during microsurgery (following colonoscopy). Our tool can be more accurate and faster than conventional detection methods once it is integrated into medical devices. If accurately detected, the disease can be fully treated in less procedures, and the risk to the patient and number of cancer surgeries would be reduced. By testing the accuracy of this tool in many settings, we showed that most accurate results were obtained by probing deeper tissue layers and collecting a larger range of light colours. Preparing my paper involved deep thinking about the usefulness of my work to the research community. Reading as many papers about my research subject was essential. I did not want to reinvent the wheel! Also, research excellence played a key role, especially considering that research would not be possible without the expertise from our group and collaborators, as well as the cutting-edge technology which is only accessible due to resources provided by Tyndall, IPIC, SFI, the Mercy hospital, and the Mercy Foundation.
4. The selection for Research Publication of the Year is extremely competitive. What is your advice for those aspiring for nomination next year?
My first piece of advice is to persevere and do not be afraid to try. It does not matter whether the selection is competitive. If you are happy with your work and publication, you should apply. If you want to prepare a good publication for the competition, being clear about the novelty, the impact, and the significance of your work to the research community will be key to demonstrate how you have advanced your field of research. To do this, I would recommend reading a lot from the beginning and identifying the gaps of current theories, technologies, and applications which still need to be addressed. Identifying such gaps will highlight which are low-hanging fruits to be picked (and possibly your way to win the competition!).
5. What is the single most significant support Tyndall has been able to offer you in achieving your research goals?
Tyndall and its openness on establishing collaborations with other institutions has given me the opportunity to work with professionals from many areas (not only in research), including my supervisors Prof. Stefan Andersson-Engels and Micheal O’Riordain. My special thanks to my supervisors for their expertise, support, and resources provided to carry out my research. The research would never have happened without the support from the Biophotonics team at Tyndall/IPIC and the Mercy Hospital team. In terms of resources, Tyndall has offered the lab facilities and computer for my simulations of light propagation in tissues.
Marcelo Saito Nogueira; Siddra Maryam; Michael Amissah; Huihui Lu; Noel Lynch; Shane Killeen; Micheal O’Riordain; and Stefan Andersson-Engels, “Evaluation of wavelength ranges and tissue depth probed by diffuse reflectance spectroscopy for colorectal cancer detection”, Sci Rep 11, 798 (2021).