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Bioelectrics research by Old Dominion University faculty members is the subject of a seven-page article in the August issue of Spectrum, a publication of the international Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

Karl H. Schoenbach and Richard Nuccitelli of ODU wrote the article together with Stephen J. Beebe of Eastern Virginia Medical School. They are research colleagues at the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, which is operated jointly by the two institutions.

The article explains in easy-to-understand language the cancer treating, gene therapy and infection fighting possibilities of the ultrashort pulses of electricity employed by Reidy Center researchers. (See the article headlined "Zap" at www.spectrum.ieee.org.)

In a paper published earlier this year by Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, a Reidy Center team reported that pulses of electricity shorter than a millionth of a second can cause complete remission of melanomas on the skin of mice.

The researchers found that ultrafast pulses with field strengths ranging as high as 40,000 volts/cm can cause the skin tumors to self destruct. Following this treatment, tumor cell nuclei shrink by 50 percent within minutes and the tumor blood supply is disrupted for weeks. The paper also suggests that tumors inside the body may respond to a similar treatment.

The Spectrum article summarizes the melanoma findings, but also includes significant new material about work going on this summer at the Reidy Center to develop an antenna that could beam the pulses at cells inside the body.

In addition, the latest article explains gene therapy that may be possible if ultrafast pulses can help genetic material "sneak" inside the nuclei of cells. This therapy could be used to fight diseases and to provide immunity from diseases. Finally, there is an explanation in the latest article of how ultrafast pulses might someday be used to recruit immune cells to fight an infection.

Schoenbach is director of the Reidy Center and a leading expert in the new field of intracellular electromanipulation. A professor and eminent scholar of electrical and computer engineering, Schoenbach also is Batten Endowed Chair in Bioelectrics Engineering at Old Dominion.

Nuccitelli, a biophysicist and an ODU research professor in engineering, was the lead investigator on the melanoma project. Beebe is an EVMS professor of physiological sciences and pediatrics.

Also acknowledged in the Spectrum article is the work of ODU faculty members R. James Swanson, professor of biological sciences; Ravindra P. Joshi, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Juergen F. Kolb, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Schoenbach predicted earlier this year that cell electromanipulation "will end up in your doctor's office" with applications not only for tumor treatment, but also for gene therapy, wound healing, removal of warts, treatment of fungal infections and other cosmetic uses. "The effects that have been observed so far are only the tip of the iceberg," he says. Nevertheless, in the latest article, he cautions that the "road ahead will be twisty and difficult" and that tests on humans are still years off.

Largely because of the work of Schoenbach and Beebe, Old Dominion administers a multi-university consortium for bioelectrics researchers representing the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, University of Texas Health Sciences Center, Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, as well as the Reidy Center. Old Dominion also is involved in international bioelectrics collaboration, having established a consortium for bioelectrics with Kumamoto University in Japan and Research Center Karlsruhe in Germany.

This article was posted on: August 9, 2006

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