Advances in Cancer Research

New Method for Detecting Cancerous Cells Yields Promise

Clarkson researchers have discovered a method for detecting cancerous cells by examining the geometric patterns of cell surfaces.

The research team led by Physics Professor Igor Sokolov has found that cancer cells can be identified with very high precision by means of a specific “fractal” analysis of images of a cell’s surface at the nanoscale.

Working with Professor of Biology Craig Woodworth, a cervical cancer expert, the researchers have been inspecting human cervical cells with atomic force microscopy to look for repetitious geometric patterns or the presence of fractals that may indicate the presence of cancer. 

Fractals are “self-similar” irregular shapes that repeat their pattern. These complex disorderly patterns are typically formed under far-from-equilibrium conditions, or emerge from chaos.

The images show a cell imaged by SEM (scanning electron microscope) and AFM (atomic force microscope).Their findings, published in the top physical journal Physical Review Letters in 2011, indicate that cancerous cells show unambiguously more fractal behavior than healthy cells. This discovery was highlighted in many leading news agencies, including U.S. News & World Report, New Scientist, APS News and MRS News.

“Cancerous transformations are associated with chaotic disorganization of many processes in a cell,” says Sokolov. “It has been known that fractal behavior can occur in chaotic systems. Fractal behavior was indeed found many decades ago in histological cross-sections of tissues, when tissue becomes cancerous. However, the emergence of fractal behavior at the cellular level had not yet been discovered, but we have finally found it.”

“This may shed light on the nature of cancer from a new physics perspective,” adds Sokolov. “Our method shows a surprisingly high accuracy of detection of cancer. We are now beginning to collaborate with Dartmouth Medical School to test this method for early diagnosis of cancer in clinical conditions.”

Identifying a Key Protein May Lead to Better Treatment for Breast Cancer

Chemistry & Biomolecular Science Professor Costel C. Darie and his research team have identified a key protein potentially involved in regulating breast cancer progression.

Prof. Costel Darie with graduate student researchers in the laboratory.The researchers have worked to identify the binding partner of Tumor Differentiating Factor (TDF), a pituitary hormone that had previously been shown to reduce cancer progression in breast cancer cells.

Earlier studies had shown that breast cancer cells treated with TDF lost their cancerous characteristics and began acting like normal mammary cells, suggesting that TDF had tumor-suppressing capabilities. However, how TDF acted remained unclear, leading Darie’s group to initiate a search for a cellular receptor in cancer cells that might bind TDF and transmit its anti-tumorigenic cues.

Darie’s group found that a receptor, labeled TDF-R, was found exclusively in breast, but not other cancer cells, suggesting a level of specificity that agrees with previous reports of the efficacy of TDF.

This result, which is being reported in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, has substantial potential implications for developing new therapies for treating breast cancers known to be unresponsive to standard steroid hormone-based therapies, such as tamoxifen treatment.

An Energy-Efficient Future

GE Energy Supports Graduate Student Fellowships

Smart GridClarkson’s graduate students are providing a fresh perspective on Smart Grid development.

A $1 million corporate grant from long-time partner GE Energy supports graduate students who will perform research in conjunction with GE’s Smart Grid and Smart Grid technology.

The GE Smart Grid Fellowship Program, which began last fall, will fund the education of 11 graduate students over two years.

The program has two main goals: to advance research into a self-monitoring and self-regulating network of electric power and to prepare the next generation of talented engineers and software developers to enter the energy field.

Each fellowship student will work with a dedicated Clarkson professor and a GE representative to develop research projects and conduct experiments.

Students are working on different tracks of Smart Grid research, including increased communication between consumers and the grid and economic models of energy costs. All the research projects share one common objective: a more energy-efficient future. 

The GE fellowship builds on Clarkson’s historical strength in the area of electric power and significantly enhances the school’s research efforts in the area of smart grid and smart grid technology.

“During our first round of project reviews, the GE team was very impressed with the knowledge and articulation of the students and the depth of the Smart Grid research programs, which the students chose,” said Dan Heintzelman ’79, president & CEO of GE Energy Services.

Graduate students Jeannie Piekarz and Nathaniel Gilbraith.