Examining cells at the nano level to treat cancer
By Leslie Minton
Photo credits: Gary Payne
In science, the smallest details matter. With funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, Guido Verbeck is using his patented technology — the nanomanipulator — to take cancer research one step further: examining the chemistry of individual cancer cells.
“What we’ve seen is that individual cancer cells each have different chemistry, and that chemistry changes based on the age of the cell,” says Verbeck, University of North Texas associate professor of chemistry. “With this technology, doctors will one day be able to tailor cancer treatments for each patient.”
Verbeck’s nanomanipulator, housed in UNT’s university-managed BioAnalytics Facility, connects to a high-powered microscope and is controlled with a joystick to allow scientists to identify and focus on a single cell. Researchers then use needles to extract cellular material but also can use focused laser equipment to perform a nanoscale version of laparoscopic surgery on a cell, helping to extract materials while also preserving the life of that cell.
Materials extracted from cells are then analyzed using mass spectrometry, so researchers can view any material’s chemical blueprint. Verbeck’s pioneering technology already is changing the way the U.S. military and U.S. Department of Justice are analyzing chemicals. Using his equipment, investigators can identify DNA from the ridges of a single fingerprint, the unique chemical signature of explosives or illegal drugs, or the source of fraudulent documents just by examining ink on the nanoscale.
“If we’re looking at illegal drugs, we can identify the ingredients in that specific drug to help investigators narrow down where the drug originated,” Verbeck says. “Pulling chemistry from fingerprints, we can identify if a print is from a man or a woman and if that person has a medical condition such as diabetes.”