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Wednesday, September 7,2011

OU scientist gets grant to find new ways to diagnose disease

Ohio University biomedical engineer Monica Burdick has received $942,000 in federal funding for two projects aimed at developing new diagnostic tools for disease, including one that could identify aggressive cancer cells.

Burdick uses engineering principles to study how cancer cells move through the body, as well as how the metastasis of tumor cells can be prevented. She joined OU's Russ College of Engineering and Technology in 2007 as an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, according to a news release.

This summer Burdick received grants from two major federal funding agencies to advance her work. An award of $499,996 from the National Science Foundation/National Cancer Institute will support a study designed to identify cancer stem cells. Many scientists theorize that cancer originates from this type of cell, which may be particularly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"If not properly treated, stem cells may cause a relapse of a more aggressive state of cancer," she explained in the release.

Burdick will work with OU biophysicist David Tees to determine if a scientific method called a micropipette aspiration assay could help engineers better distinguish cancer stem cells from other types of cancer cells. This could lead to further research that might benefit cancer patients, she said.

The three-year project also includes Fabian Benencia, an OU faculty member with a joint appointment in the Russ College and Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Better diagnosis of disease is the goal of another project led by Burdick, who received a three-year $442,500 National Institutes of Health grant to study a novel method of analyzing tissue samples. Burdick and colleagues Doug Goetz of the Russ College and Ramiro Malgor of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine will test a technique called dynamic biochemical tissue analysis that could provide more details on diagnoses of various human illnesses, including cancer, the release said.

"You might get an answer that has more meaning than just 'yes or no,' in the simplest sense," Burdick said. "The new method could give us a richer, deeper understanding of the disease that would be more meaningful for the patient, such as what type of drug treatment is most likely to prolong life."


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