Clarkson cancer research highlighted in national journal
Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 6:22 am

POTSDAM -- An article in the May 23 issue of the well regarded journal Chemical & Engineering News features work on cervical cancer cells done by Clarkson University Physics Professor Igor Sokolov's group in collaboration with Biology Professor Craig D. Woodworth.

The article, "Using the Force on Cancer," analyzes the state of research into the mechanics of tumor cells with atomic force microscopy and its possible use as a new cancer diagnostic tool.

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.

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, in the estimation of some people these methods are either insufficiently accurate or require a lengthy complicated analysis, which makes them impractical for clinical use. The research proceeds in the hope that the physical sciences can find another simpler and more precise way to detect cancer cells.

"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 measurement model, 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.