Undergrad Puts the Heat on Cancer Cells

McDermott Scholar Co-Authors Paper on Nanotube and Antibody Treatment

June 17, 2008

Senior molecular and cell biology major Austin Swafford is a McDermott Scholar, a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and now a “published author.” The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a respected multidisciplinary journal, published the paper by authors from the Cancer Immunobiology Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Bionanosciences Group at UT Dallas.

The researchers used specific antibodies that stick to cancer cells and attached them to tiny carbon nanotubes, which happen to heat up in the presence of certain wavelengths of light. The benefit? Once the antibody sticks to the cancer cells, researchers can beam near-infrared light — like the kind used in remote controls — at the cells, heat the nanotubes, and cook the cancer cells to death. Living tissues not tagged with nanotubes aren’t harmed by the light, which penetrates about an inch and a half into tissues.

The study is the first to demonstrate that antibodies and carbon nanotubes retain their physical properties and their functional abilities — meaning, in the presence of light they performed as expected without attaching to or damaging cells they weren’t supposed to touch. Studies are just beginning in mice, but the technique holds promise for future applications in humans.

“I was attracted to this work because it combined my passion for research in nanotechnology with the promise of helping people by developing a new tool for combating cancer,” Swafford said. “The collaboration between the Bionanosciences Group at UT Dallas and the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern offered me a unique opportunity to do research in this frontier area of nanomedicine. I plan to continue working in this field as I pursue my graduate studies.”

Dr. Rockford Draper, who leads the Bionanosciences Group at UT Dallas, said, “Austin stands out among undergraduate students. When we started working in this area, we thought it would attract students like Austin who are interested in exploring the application of the unique properties of nanomaterials to the areas of biotechnology and medicine.”

Swafford also has had the chance to intern at Zyvex Corp., the world’s first molecular nanotechnology company, and to obtain a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship with Dr. Ellen Vitetta, a senior author of the study and director of the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern.

“It has been a sincere pleasure working with Austin and we look forward to his continued contribution to our projects during his upcoming senior year at UT Dallas,” Draper said.


Media contacts: Brandon Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.Webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, news center@utdallas.edu

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Swafford Austin

“I was attracted to this work because it combined my passion for research in nanotechnology with the promise of helping people by developing a new tool for combating cancer,” said Austin Swafford.

Research Team
UT Dallas
UT Southwestern
Dr. Rockford Draper
Dr. Inga Musselman
Dr. Paul Pantano
Pooja Bajaj
Austin Swafford
Dr. Ellen Vitetta
Dr. Radu Marches
Pavitra Chakravarty
MIT
Neil S. Zimmerman

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