IU doctors, Purdue University researchers collaborate to create embedding program

  • March 15, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – The Oncological Sciences Center at Purdue University's Discovery Park and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center have created a collaboration that utilizes the resources of each organization in an effort to develop a device to create a less invasive means of detecting prostate cancer.

The Walther Oncology Physical Sciences and Engineering Research Embedding Program places either a Purdue student or postdoctoral trainee studying the physical and chemical/sciences or engineering into the IU Simon Cancer Center; or an IU postdoctoral trainee or medical fellow/resident/junior faculty into a Purdue laboratory.

The program creates a more fluid exchange of knowledge between two disciplines that possess a unique skill set that can be put toward developing medical devices and treatments.

"This clearly opens up doors to resources we may have not known that we had," said Tim Masterson, MD, associate professor of urology at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center. "We do have basic scientists, but I think the areas of expertise with nanotechnology, chemistry and engineering open different avenues for us that we otherwise wouldn't have known were there. We can develop different approaches and identify new technologies to incorporate."

The Walther Cancer Foundation provided funding for the two-year project. Brittani Bungart, an MD/PhD student at the IU School of Medicine, is working at Purdue with Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in biomedical engineering and chemistry. Cheng is a member of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research.

The two and their colleagues are trying to create an imaging device that can detect prostate cancer in a less invasive way. The technology utilizes an optical hybrid modality device that would potentially allow for spatial localization and molecular grading of cancer, with hopes of providing a noninvasive means of diagnosing and staging disease while eliminating the need for multiple biopsies.

The collaboration is designed to first understand the clinical aspects of detecting prostate cancer and then experiment with designs to create a new technology to advance early detection.

"The great thing about this collaboration is we get input from the doctors early so we can change our design earlier in the process rather than making a tool and going to the surgeon and having that person say, 'No, this isn’t going to work,'" Bungart said.

The collaboration allows the clinicians and the researchers to communicate more frequently and sooner in the process. In the long run, the frequent discussion back and forth could eliminate wasted time on a path that ultimately won’t work.

"The real benefit is including those design needs earlier," Bungart said. "I love being able to work with the engineers and surgeons. I'm so happy to be able to have the opportunity to work on problems I think are important, but to also work with people that I think are helping guide me by telling me it's actually possible to do this kind of research."

Participating in the embedding program gives Bungart a more multidimensional background moving forward in her medical career.

"She's involved in instrumentation and she's involved in signal analysis," Cheng said. "If she knows how to do it now then she will have no fear to do it again in her own career. That should really make a tremendous impact on her career."

Brittani Bungart is a MD/PhD student at the IU School of Medicine who is participating in The Walther Oncology Physical Sciences and Engineering Research Embedding Program.

Brittani Bungart is a MD/PhD student at the IU School of Medicine who is participating in The Walther Oncology Physical Sciences and Engineering Research Embedding Program. | Photo by John Underwood, Purdue University

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