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No Matter How Small

When Horton first heard the Who, he discovered an entire world that fit on the head of a pin. Luckily for North Texans, at universities across our region, researchers and their teams know how to leverage very small things to make a big impact in our daily lives.

Nanotechnology is the study of anything very small – a nanometer, for instance, is one thousandth part of a human hair. Dr. Samir Iqbal, associate professor in the electrical engineering department of The University of Texas at Arlington, and a team of colleagues use their expertise in small technology to tackle a very big problem: cancer.

The UT Arlington team found that cancer cells placed on a petri dish behave differently than normal cells. While normal cells behave cautiously, like humans in foreign environments, tumor cells behave like ‘bad people.’ “Normal cells get scared. Tumor cells keep scavenging,” said Dr. Iqbal, “and they are ‘tough,’ even on foreign surfaces.” In essence, they dance, he explained.

Understanding this difference in behavior, the team created silicon chips that mimic a body’s nanotextured surface. When they placed both types of cells on the chips, they were able to identify the “dancing cells” in a way that can help doctors pinpoint cancer cells and start treatment sooner than allowed with current technology.

“Discovering the cancer earlier, before it metastasizes, is essential to surviving cancer,” Dr. Iqbal said. “Our technology has the potential to do that.” Iqbal’s research team has received grants to build inexpensive devices that use nanotechnology and a simple urine test to detect the most miniscule amount of bladder cancer cells in a patient.

“In North Texas,” he said, “we have a unique juncture with such fantastic medical facilities such as UT Southwestern and UNT Health Sciences Center, in addition to research institutions such as UTA. This is the place for any student or any professional to be involved in healthcare research. We are going much faster than anywhere else.”

Read about more North Texas researchers and their innovative work in the latest issue of NTX Magazine.

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