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A team of scientists and engineers from Old Dominion University and the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics has received a $34,000 grant from a Norfolk foundation to pursue a novel approach to fighting cancer.

The researchers propose a two-pronged attack on internal body tumors using (1) ultra-fast pulses of electricity delivered by antennae and (2) electro-sensitizing chemicals that would make tumor cells easier to kill during the pulse treatment.

This project builds on previous successes at the Reidy Center, where researchers reported last year that their ultra-fast pulses brought about complete remission of melanomas on the skin of mice. The researchers responsible for the successes include Karl Schoenbach and Richard Nuccitelli of the Reidy Center and Stephen Beebe of Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Schoenbach, director of the Reidy Center and ODU's Batten Endowed Chair in Bioelectrics, said the grant from the local Breeden-Adams Foundation will allow a graduate researcher to spend the next 12 months focusing on the new approach. The work already has won support from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and BioElectrics Inc., a Virginia Beach company.

"For us, it's important to get the community involved in what we are doing," Schoenbach said. "This grant from the Breeden-Adams Foundation shows that local residents are watching, and seeing that we are doing good things for the community." He noted that the four-year-old center is named for a benefactor-entrepreneur Frank Reidy-who lives in Virginia Beach.

If this line of research advances the fight against cancer, Schoenbach said, the team will credit the breakthrough to a lot of hard work and a little bit of good fortune.

The novel, two-pronged approach resulted from the arrival at ODU in 2006 of proteomics researcher Dennis Peffley. He took a research professorship at the university when his wife, Patricia Hentosh, accepted a tenure-track faculty position as professor of medical laboratory and radiation sciences in ODU's College of Health Sciences.

But Schoenbach's and Peffley's paths did not cross until Mohammad Karim, ODU's vice president for research, decided they should meet.

"We were brought together by Dr. Karim, who told me there was someone new on campus with significant experience in the anti-tumor field," Schoenbach said. "I attended a seminar Dr. Peffley gave in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and we talked afterwards about ways to integrate our research. This is more evidence of the talent on campus that can assist us in bioelectrics."

Peffley said he visited with Reidy Center researchers and "we formulated experiments, which were done with positive results." He found a bioelectrics team that had demonstrated success with ultra-fast pulse treatment of skin cancers and wanted, literally, to go deeper. They wanted to be able to treat tumors inside the body, and for this they were exploring the possibility of delivering the pulses with wide-band antennae similar to those used by the military for high-resolution radar devices.

For his part, Peffley, whose academic career has included posts at Chicago Medical School and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, brought expertise in cellular biochemistry and the mechanisms of diseases such as cancer. For example, he had worked with chemical agents that weaken the defenses of tumor cells so radiation treatments can be more effective.

The integration of research involves ways Peffley can "sensitize" tumor cells so that the ultra-fast pulses can accomplish efficient, pinpoint kills. With Peffley's electro-sensitizing processes, Schoenbach said, the bioelectrics researchers hope to reduce the energy needed to eliminate tumors and to highlight-or "label"-tumor cells to allow greater specificity of pulse treatment.

These goals support the larger bioelectrics mission of killing tumor cells without harming healthy cells.

Schoenbach and Peffley are co-principal investigators on the project and the graduate researcher will be Thomas Camp, a doctoral student from Virginia Beach. "This young man joined us last fall and already has proven his ability to work both in electrical engineering, his home department, and to quickly learn methods used in biological studies," Schoenbach said.

The Breeden-Adams Foundation has supported cancer research in the past at EVMS.

This article was posted on: February 7, 2007

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