Partnerships between engineers and cancer researchers may seem unlikely to some, but at The Ohio State University such pairings are plentiful — and paying off for patients.
Consider, for example, how researchers in several colleges at the university are teaming up to apply nanotechnology — which involves working at the scale of a nanometer (a billionth of a meter) — to improve the detection and treatment of cancer. Through nanotechnology, scientists are making materials and devices for detecting, diagnosing and even treating cancer by delivering therapeutic genetic material into tumor cells with minimal side effects.
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) and Ohio State’s College of Engineering have found so much promise in the merger of minds that they have created a special center to support it, paving the way for treatment innovations that previously were unimaginable.
The OSUCCC – James Center for Cancer Engineering – Curing Cancer through Research in Engineering and Sciences (CCE-CURES) is a multidisciplinary collaboration to develop and integrate engineering technologies and data science with cancer biology to enhance cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Headquartered on the second floor of the new Pelotonia Research Center, the CCE-CURES program pursues fascinating approaches to combating cancer.
“We can identify clinical solutions in cancer for which engineering solutions are highly relevant,” says OSUCCC Director Raphael E. Pollock, MD, PhD, FACS.
Dr. Pollock cites several examples, such as using Ohio State’s sophisticated electron microscopy unit to analyze the makeup of frozen sample cells and other molecular structures relevant to cancer. This technique, called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), is applied to samples that have been cooled to extremely low temperatures and embedded in a thin layer of vitreous water. By overcoming challenges associated with traditional electron microscopy, cryo-EM enables scientists to see how biomolecules move and interact as they perform their functions.
Other engineering applications to cancer research and care, Dr. Pollock says, include a nanotechnology delivery system for topical application of drugs, liquid biopsy, molecular imaging and 3D modeling of patient anatomy (tissue, tumors, bone structure). “These are just a few of the many applications that fall under the broad rubric of cancer engineering,” he adds.
“The central concept of cancer engineering is to take the technologies, methods and tools that engineers, physical and material scientists possess and apply them to cancer research to improve the care of our patients,” says CCE-CURES Co-Director Matthew Ringel, MD, a thyroid cancer specialist who also serves as professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics in The Ohio State University College of Medicine, where he holds the Ralph W. Kurtz Chair in Hormonology. “We have a wonderful spirit of teamwork among the many disciplines at the university that are involved in this effort.”
CCE-CURES Co-Director Jonathan Song, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, says the program pools the expertise of some 60 scientists from seven of the university’s 15 colleges, including: Engineering; Medicine; Arts and Sciences; Pharmacy; Veterinary Medicine; Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Public Health.
And these efforts will keep expanding. Dr. Song notes that the program “supports the recruitment of five to seven new faculty to Ohio State over the next two to four years with our partnering colleges.”