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Research Into Tiny Pores in Cells Caused by Electrical Pulses Leads to NIH Grant for ODU's Pakhomov

Andrei Pakhomov, research associate professor at Old Dominion University's Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, has received a four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to do broader research into his breakthrough work in the field of nanoelectroporation.

The $1.14-million grant for the project "Mechanisms and Implications of Nanoelectroporation in Living Cells," will allow Pakhomov and the Reidy Center to stay at the leading edge, worldwide, in studying what happens to living cells when exposed to nanosecond-duration, high voltage electric pulses (nsEP).

"We need to better understand what these pulses do to the cells," said Pakhomov, who came to ODU in 2007 from San Antonio, Tex, where he worked at the Air Force Research Lab at Brooks City-Base and at the University of Texas Health Science Center. "We treat biological cells as "black boxes" to explore nanosecond pulse effects."

This NIH grant follows another NIH grant Pakhomov received 2 years ago for research into using nanosecond pulses to kill cancer cells. The principal bioeffect of these pulses is the creation of tiny, stable, voltage- and current-sensitive pores in the membrane of cells, called nanopores. These pores remain in the affected membrane for long periods of time (minutes), to allow access to the cell itself through the membrane.

The process, known as nanoelectroporation, allows for other testing mechanisms to be used on the cells, something that ultimately could promote the development of new medical and research applications using nsEP for deliberate modification of cell functions, particularly in nerve and muscle tissues.

Specifically, the grant hopes to optimize nanoelectroporation procedures and their detection techniques, by testing the process on a wide variety of living cells. Pakhomov also wants to analyze structural and functional properties of nanopores, such as how long they last, and how sensitive they are to voltage and currents.

It's part of the larger mission of the Reidy Center, which as its core work involves research into exposing living tissue to high-voltage electricity.

Ultimately, exploring the phenomenon of nanoelectroporation in living cells will allow for potential applications of this technique to be sought in the fields of research and medicine. Pakhomov said it's the type of research that frequently leads to medical breakthroughs.

Reidy Center director Richard Heller has used electroporation to introduce genetic therapy to cells. A pioneer in the field of electrogenetherapy, Heller has used the technology to provide pinpoint applications of therapies against cancer and other maladies. This procedure allows tumors to be targeted for treatment without the broad damage to healthy tissue caused by most chemotherapies today.

This latest NIH grant will also allow Pakhomov and the Reidy Center to further the field of knowledge in this relatively new field of science, one which the Reidy Center is one of the world's leaders. "We have researchers from around the world visiting this center, because of the work we're doing in this area, Pakhomov said.

The Frank Reidy Center for Bioelectrics is home to more than 40 researchers with expertise in engineering, physics, immunology, molecular biology and biophysics, working in newly constructed, state-of-the-art laboratories at Innovation Research Park @ ODU. Research at the center ranges from fundamental studies of electric field and plasma effects on biological cells to applied research with medical and commercial applications.

This article was posted on: July 1, 2010

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