Engineering meets bioscience
The National Cancer Institute issued a challenge to researchers in 2004 to eliminate cancer suffering and death by 2015. One area focused on the increased application of nanotechnology in cancer research.
The institute’s report says nanomaterials and nanodevices will play a critical role in turning knowledge into clinically useful advances that will improve the way cancer is diagnosed, treated and, ultimately, prevented.
Electrical engineering Assistant Professor Samir Iqbal is exploring this emerging technology with a $400,000 CAREER program award he received in 2009 from the National Science Foundation.
“I was intrigued early on in my career to cross the boundaries of engineering and biosciences for a larger impact,” says Dr. Iqbal, who created a nano-bio laboratory at UT Arlington. The lab provides opportunities for collaboration among researchers from electrical engineering, bioengineering, biology, mathematics and biochemistry.
With support from the CAREER program, the team is developing a nano-sized biosensing device that will detect and diagnose cancer in its very early stages. Research shows patients whose cancers are found early and treated in a timely manner are more likely to survive than those diagnosed after symptoms appear.
“The idea is to be able to test a single drop of blood for specific biomarkers that indicate if cancer is present,” Iqbal says.
“The idea is to be able to test a single drop of blood for specific biomarkers that indicate if cancer is present.”
The technology will test biomarkers that have been associated with a particular type of cancer, much like a glucose meter tests for blood sugar in diabetics. With a typical glucose meter, a small blood sample is placed on a test strip that is then placed into the meter. The strips are coated with chemicals that react with the glucose in the blood. The meters measure the amount of glucose present, either through electricity that can pass through the blood or light reflected by it.
Iqbal’s strips would be tested using the nano-sized biosensing device he’s developing. With biomarkers found in the blood, a doctor could identify where the cancer is and patients receive treatment at a much earlier stage.
The CAREER funding also will enable Iqbal to create interdisciplinary educational opportunities for students at all levels to learn more about nano-biotechnology. He’s developing a portfolio of classes for graduate students as well as a nano-bio blog for science teachers to encourage discussion. And he hopes to establish a summer camp for K-12 students and allow high schoolers and undergraduates to work in his lab.
“Ultimately, I want to create collaboration and get students excited about sciences, technology, engineering and math,” he says.
And perhaps inspire the next generation of cancer researchers.
- Becky Purvis