University of Texas at Arlington’s (UTA) electrical engineers developed a novel cancer detection method at the cellular level that might improve early diagnosis. The tool tracks cellular behavior in real-time using nanotextured walls that mimic layers of the body tissue, and it could be a key device to fight cancers through early detection and to improve survival rates in cancer patients.
The research team, led by Samir Iqbal, an associate professor in the Electrical Engineering Department, reported its results in a recently published article, “Effects of Nanotexture on Electrical Profiling of Single Tumor Cell and Detection of Cancer from Blood in Microfluidic Channels” in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Iqbal is the director of the UTA Nano-Bio Lab and an affiliated faculty member of the UTA Bioengineering Department. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Urology at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a senior member of IEEE-USA, among other medical societies, such as the Biomedical Engineering Society, American Physical Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Biophysical Society.
Iqbal developed the project with Young-tae Kim, a UTA associate professor in the Bioengineering Department; Muhymin Islam, a STEM doctoral candidate; and engineering students Mohammad Raziul Hasan, Adeel Sajid, and Mohammad Motasim Bellah.
The team identified the many layers of tissue in the human body and thought they could reproduce that layering. “The answer was in creating a nanotextured wall that fools blood samples into thinking it’s actual tissue,” Iqbal said in a UTA news release. “We used inherent properties of the cell walls to create a diagnostic tool. The cancer cells behave differently as they come into contact with the nanotextured walls. They dance.”
The identification of these dancing cells can now help doctors detect cancer cells and begin treatment earlier than current technology allows. “Discovering the cancer earlier, before it metastasizes, is essential to surviving cancer,” Iqbal said. “Our device has the potential to do that.”
A $480,000 National Science Foundation grant in 2014 supported the now-published discovery by funding the design and creation of this potentially life-saving device.
Since his arrival at UTA in 2007, Iqbal has already been awarded $1.4 million in grants. Among them was an NSF Career grant that helped him create a nanoelectronic microfluid biochip to detect biomarkers, which was fundamental to the advancement of his research. In 2013, Tau Beta Pi inducted Iqbal as an Eminent Engineer, with praises for his groundbreaking research.
“Dr. Iqbal and his colleagues are bringing engineering innovation to meet the challenge of early cancer detection,” said Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UTA College of Engineering. “The research aligns with UTA’s Strategic Plan, particularly the focus on Health and the Human Condition. Iqbal’s device could greatly improve cancer survival rates, which is good news for humanity. There are very few people around the world whose lives have not been touched by this dreadful disease.”