Who Dr Tess Reynolds, University of Sydney
What By developing technology to better guide robotic imaging during surgery, Dr Tess Reynolds is improving the view for surgeons as well as outcomes for patients. Partnering with the world’s largest medical device company, her pioneering techniques offer clearer, more complete images for complex cardiac and spinal surgery.
Winner of the 2022 Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher
What initially attracted you to the field of biomedical imaging?
The potential to make an impact on people’s lives. My pathway to entering the field of biomedical imaging was, however, a little unconventional. I’ve always been passionate about physics and how it provides a pathway to understanding the fundamental way the world works, which led me to study astrophysics during my undergraduate and honours degrees.
After spending a year attempting to identify the possible origin locations for high energy cosmic rays (high speed particles that travel through space) for my honours research project, I began my PhD. It was at this stage that I took my first steps towards the biomedical field, where I developed whispering-gallery mode biosensors using optical fibers and lasers. For those reading, a whispering gallery mode biosensor is an optical device that monitors changes in optical resonance – how a beam of light circulates in a microcavity, as biological material attaches to the surface. This research opened my eyes to the possibilities of leveraging advances in the fundamental understanding of physics to improve the performance of devices that could have real-world impact.
This research opened my eyes to the possibilities of leveraging advances in the fundamental understanding of physics to improve the performance of devices that could have real-world impact.
Much of your research is focused on clinical imaging challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about these?
Two of the main clinical imaging challenges my research is trying to address are patient motion and limited field-of-view.
Patient motion Patients are dynamic, constantly experiencing involuntary motion — such as breathing, a beating heart, coughing and swallowing — and each of these actions can result in motion blur in the final images. One aspect of my research is to program imaging hardware to ‘beat in sync’ with the patient, acquiring images when heart and lung motion are minimal, eliminating most of the motion blur.
Limited field of view Current intraoperative volumetric imaging is often limited to capturing small anatomical sites in a single image, such as a couple of vertebrae, yet procedures often focus on long anatomical site — such as the entire spine. Being able to visualise these entire sites in 3D while in the operating room would allow registration of the patient’s anatomy on the day with planning images, enabling in-room surgical verification of the procedure. Another aspect of my work, then, is developing new techniques that leverage the flexibility of robotic images, allowing small sites to be captured in a single image.
You’ve established several international partnerships in recent years, both with academic institutions and Siemens, the world’s largest medical device company. What role do these collaborative relationships play in your research?
The partnerships and collaborations I have with industry and international academic institutions are fundamental to my research. Science is very much a team sport, so while I may be receiving accolades for my Eureka Prize, it’s only possible because I’m able to lead a team and work with multidisciplinary researchers who individually bring new perspectives, ideas or specific pieces of knowledge to the challenges we are collectively tackling.
Science is very much a team sport
What are the more challenging aspects of your work?
One of the most challenging (and unexpected) aspects of my work in the last few years has been working with animal cadavers, which are often used to optimise the image acquisition (for example, dose, frame rate and scan time) and image quality of new imaging techniques before moving to humans. With my background in physics, I never thought I would be involved with research that required animal cadavers.
What are some of the real-world impacts you hope to see from your research in the future?
I hope that the imaging techniques and technologies I’m developing can be made available to every patient undergoing an interventional procedure — helping surgeons to provide the best possible treatment and outcomes for their patients.
What does winning a Eureka Prize mean to you?
It’s hard to put into words, but it certainly means a lot. It’s a real honour to be recognised on a national stage and to be able to share the moment with my parents, family and friends. There’s a lot of unseen and unrecognised work behind every publication and scientific advancement, so holding this Eureka Prize makes every unsuccessful day in the lab, funding rejection and midnight call to an international collaborator worth it.
The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.