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Professor Stephen J Matcher

Professor of Biophotonics, Bioengineering Course DirectorProf Steve Matcher

Research interests

  • The development and application of biophotonic tools to obtain information about the structure and function of tissue in the body. 

Key achievements

  • Developing Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) as a quantitative tool to study collagen architecture in connective tissues.
  • Editing Optical Techniques in Regenerative Medicine.
  • Collaborating across the disciplines, with laser physicists, biophysicists, chemists, clinicians and tissue engineers to deliver improved biophotonic tools.

What aspects of bioengineering are you tackling with your research?

"I specialise in a sub-branch of imaging technology called biophotonics, which uses optical and infra-red radiation to gain information about the state of tissue in the body. Unlike x-rays and gamma rays, it uses non-ionising radiation, so it can be used repeatedly in the same person to provide a continuous, longitudinal picture of how disease and treatment is progressing.

I’m particularly interested in a technique called Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT provides a non-invasive, high resolution image of the retina and my research looks at how this technique may be used in non-ophthalmic applications. Emerging areas are things like dermal imaging to detect skin cancer. Imaging only 1mm into the body doesn’t seem like much at first, but it’s actually the seat of 80% of all cancer so it’s extremely useful to clinicians. I’m also looking at how it can be used in tissue engineering and am working on a project with Professor Sheila MacNeil which uses OCT to track transplanted stem cells on a cornea of the eye."

Why should a prospective student choose to study bioengineering at Sheffield?

"Firstly, it’s embedded in a faculty whose seven departments are top rated in the country: a faculty which is very serious about using engineering principles to improve human health. It has lots of interaction with the University’s Medical School, it’s involved with the innovative Engineering Life Science Interface and is heavily invested in the Insigneo Institute, all of which benefit our students. This is a very unique offering at Sheffield.

The other unique thing about the Bioengineering degree is that it is broken up into streams – biomedical engineering, medical devices & systems, and biomaterials, biomanufacturing and tissue engineering. As a first year student, it’s a tall order to choose whether you want to specialise in one of these areas, but we take the worry out of that choice by offering a common first year. Students can choose to specialise (or remain on a general stream) later on, but that broad based education in their first year makes the decision much easier. It also provides them with a good grounding in basic engineering principles, which makes them highly employable for a range of roles and industries when they graduate."

Can you tell us more about the modules you teach?

"I contribute to a first year module called 'Introduction to Bioengineering'. This follows on into the second year on 'Advanced Topics in Bioengineering'. I give three lectures in each of those about medical engineering.

In year two, I teach 'Biomedical Instrumentation' which looks at how engineering is integral to the kind of machines you see on Casualty in an intensive care ward, such as an ECG machine.

I co-teach 'A Group Project in Bioengineering' in the third year, an innovative module which gives students the opportunity to propose their own project. It can be about anything which interests them – research, industrial design, product development – there’s a very broad scope. In groups, they then run with the best idea. What they have to produce at the end is a concrete project proposal with clearly defined goals and a clearly defined route to achieving those goals, including a realistic budget – both in terms of human resources and money. Their experience on this module can be really useful in helping students secure a job after they graduate, because it gives them practical experience and something tangible to talk about in interviews.

'Research Seminars in Bioengineering', also in year three, is another innovative module. My colleagues and I have a lot of contacts throughout the bioengineering industry and we invite them in to give a series of seminars. The students interact, there’s a group activity and it’s assessed by an essay at the end. That’s a popular module which students really enjoy.

In year four, I teach an advanced module called 'Bio-imaging' which focuses on the underlying physics of medical imaging. It has an emphasis towards microscopy and is of particular interest to people following the tissue engineering and biomedical engineering streams."