Kettering's Bell Tower

Physics students helping with multidisciplinary research aimed at finding new cancer treatments

Students Nathaniel Mosher and Emily Perkins-Harbin are attempting to help with design and implementation of magnetic nanoparticles for such a treatment.

A number of faculty at Kettering University are actively engaged in finding a cure for cancer without the troubling side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The alternative treatment, led by Dr. Prem Vaishnava from the Department of Physics, involves injecting magnetic nanoparticles in the tumor tissues and exposing it to an oscillating magnetic field to generate heat thereby killing the cancer cells.

Students Nathaniel Mosher and Emily Perkins-Harbin are attempting to help with design and implementation of magnetic nanoparticles for such a treatment.

Mosher’s thesis research includes the developing of magnetic nanoparticles and optimizing their properties for effective treatment. Perkins-Harbin’s work attempts to take the next step by forming microbubbles that are able to specifically carry nanoparticles to the cancer site.

Students Nathaniel Mosher and Emily Perkins-Harbin.

“The idea is that you can put the bubbles near the cancer cell so when you stimulate them with ultrasound, it could facilitate nanoparticle or drug delivery,” Perkins-Harbin said. “Right now we are studying ways to attach both nanoparticles and drugs to the bubbles.”

The work is based on Vaishnava’s collaborative research with the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center for ocular cancer, Dr. Ronald Kumon’s work in therapeutic ultrasound, and Dr. Ronald Tackett’s work in magnetic nanoparticles. Other members of the Kettering university team includes Dr. Cornel Rablau from the Department of Physics, who is assisting with temperature measurements and magnetic field generation, Dr. Lihua Wang from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is supervising novel magnetic nanoparticles. Mosher and Perkins-Harbin started working in the group in January 2014.

Magnetic nanoparticle treatment has the potential to be targeted and site-specific so it may be possible for it to have fewer side effects as compared to radiation and chemotherapy. As such, Vaishnava and his research team suggest that it could be effective as a complement to traditional cancer treatments.

“The ideal result would be to be able to use the properties of magnetic nanoparticles to help treat cancer without resorting to chemotherapy or surgery,” Mosher said. “But they can also be used to enhance those treatments.”

Mosher and Perkins-Harbin have also been working on a tangential project which Mosher presented at the national American Physical Society meeting in March 2015 in San Antonio. The conference abstract for the paper is titled, “Determination of the magnetocrystalline anisotropy constant from the frequency dependence of the specific absorption rate in frozen ferrofluid.” The presentation explores a new method for determining a material property of a ferrofluid which will be injected in the tumor for treatment. This investigation is important for understanding the role of the nanoparticles in killing the cancer cells.

Based on their experiences, Mosher and Perkins-Harbin are both advocates for academic research on campus. Perkins-Harbin suggests that academic research can help prepare students for jobs that require industry research and publications while providing a differing perspective on the theories and processes behind applied technologies.

“More students should do research on campus,” Mosher said. “Co-op is one thing but academic research is a different world than what you might explore with co-op.”