North Texas Daily

Professor researches new cancer detection, treatment

Professor researches new cancer detection, treatment

April 24
21:45 2013

Melissa Wylie / Senior Staff Writer

Light and sound are the key elements in physics professor Arup Neogi’s research in developing new methods to detect and treat cancer.

Neogi is analyzing the potential of killing cancer cells at both a single-cell and tumor level with heat generated by infrared light and sound waves, he said.

“Cancer cells are more prone to heat, compared to normal cells,” Neogi said.

Neogi began working with nanotechnology in cancer research five years ago with Japanese scientists, and he remains in partnerships with universities in Japan, he said.

Neogi is also developing an early detection strategy by inserting nanoparticles into healthy and cancerous cells, he said.

A laser shining on the cells reacts with the nanoparticles and causes them to light up, allowing Neogi and his students to create images showing the differences in the cells, he said.

“The short term goal is, of course, to try to make this imaging technique that we are working on foolproof, so that we can absolutely be sure that when there’s a cancer cell, there’s a cancer cell,” Neogi said.

Current chemotherapy treatments do not distinguish which cells to destroy. Nanoparticle treatments could simultaneously isolate and kill cancer cells with the heat from the lighted nanoparticles, Neogi said.

Physics graduate student Benny Urban, one of Neogi’s student researchers, said increasing accuracy can lead to earlier cancer detection when testing individual cells.

Testing for cancer using nanoparticles often costs more than $1,500 for a single test, but further development of the process will eventually lower the price. Urban said lower prices will eventually make it more attractive to use in the medical industry.

“When you can cut down on the cost of a medical technique from a couple thousand dollars to a few tens of dollars, there is always the possibility of affecting the medical community,” Urban said. “However, even though we are close to showing the application, there is still work that needs to be done.”

Nanoparticles work at a single-cell level, but the treatment approach using soundwaves involves larger groups of cells, Neogi said.

His students have constructed an acoustic lens, which will soon be patented, that controls the distance a soundwave travels and its destination point, Neogi said.

Similar to nanoparticles, soundwaves create heat, and the lens can focus that heat onto a mass of cancerous cells, he said.

“The sound one is really unique, and we still are looking into it,” Neogi said. “We are not sure how effective it is. But, light we can control much more because we have been working on it for quite a while.”

One of the biggest challenges will be applying research that has only been conducted in Petri dishes to live animals, and eventually humans, Neogi said.

“We can show that in the cells, it works, and these are real cancer cells that we have from various labs and various hospitals,” Neogi said. “Of course, things behave differently when you talk about cells in a body.”

Neogi said he is collaborating with medical schools to bring these processes into practice, including University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and UT Medical Branch at Galveston.

“If you look at X-ray, MRI or a sonogram, they all came up from fundamental physics labs,” Neogi said. “These are relatively simple principles, and they evolved for use in medicine and it really helped the physicians to look at things.”

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