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06-08-2011

Chemical & Engineering News Features Clarkson University Work on New Cancer Detection Method

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/isokolov.jpg.]

An article in the May 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, a major news journal of the American Chemical Society, features work on cervical cancer cells done by Clarkson University Physics Professor Igor Sokolov’s group with collaboration by Biology Professor Craig D. Woodworth.

Igor SokolovThe article, “Using the Force on Cancer,” which was written by Associate Editor Lauren K. Wolf, analyzes the current state of research of the mechanics of tumor cells with atomic force microscopy and its possible use as a new non-traditional diagnostic tool of cancer.

Methods for the detection of cancer cells are mostly based on traditional techniques used in biology, such as visual identification of malignant changes, cell-growth analysis, or genetic tests.

Despite being well developed, these methods are either insufficiently accurate or require a lengthy complicated analysis, which is impractical for clinical use. There is a hope that the physical sciences can help to develop an alternative method in the detection of cancer cells, which will be more precise and simpler.

Sokolov’s group, along with a number of other research groups, is trying to find unknown features of cancer cells that might be used for the detection and a better understanding of cancer.

“We focus on the study of mechanical properties of cell, which we study by means of atomic force microscopy (AFM), one of the major instruments responsible for the emergence of nanotechnology," says Sokolov.

Many researchers have demonstrated that cancerous cells are softer than normal ones. However, the group led by Sokolov found that this may not necessarily be the case. Studying human cancerous cervical cells, the group found that the rigidity of cancerous and normal cells does not differ significantly.

However, using an accurate model to describe the measurements, they found that the surface mechanical properties of cancerous and normal cells are considerably different.

“It is presently hard to compare results from different groups," says Sokolov. “Many groups use excessively sharp AFM probes, which causes non-linear cellular response, and consequently, can lead to incorrect numbers. We need a protocol -- what we can trust and what we can’t.”

He added that when diagnosing cancer, you don’t want to make mistakes.

The team consists of Sokolov, who has appointments in Physics and Chemistry and Biomolecular Science; Woodworth, a cervical cancer expert; Maxim Dokukin, a physics postdoctoral fellow; and Ravi M. Gaikwad and Nataliaa Guz, physics graduate students.

The other members of Sokolov’s group, Shajesh Palantavida (physics postdoctoral fellow), and Shyuzhene Li (physics graduate student), work on biosensors, self-assembly of particles, and the study of skin aging.

The research was done within the Nanoengineering and Biotechnology Laboratories Center (NABLAB) led by Sokolov, a unit established to promote cross-disciplinary collaborations within the University.

It comprises more than a dozen faculty members to capitalize on the expertise of Clarkson scholars in the areas of cancer cell research, fine particles for bio and medical applications, synthesis of smart materials, advancement biosensors, etc.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Igor Sokolov.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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