Current methods of detecting lung cancer consist of imaging methods and invasive biopsies, which can be stressful and painful for patients. Yuze "Alice" Sun, an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Arlington, has received a $199,999 grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to develop a non-invasive means to detect early stage lung cancer through biomarkers in a patient's breath instead, saving the patient from needle biopsies and extended waits for a diagnosis.
Sun plans to develop an optofluidic gas-analyzing microsystem to separate and profile chemical compounds in human exhaled breath, then search for those that may indicate lung cancer. The new technology may eventually offer a noninvasive way for doctors to screen patients for lung cancer at an early stage, when the treatment is the most effective.
"The key component is determining how to process and distinguish the thousands of chemicals in the breath. Some are biomarkers for lung cancer, but they are in very low concentrations and are difficult to detect," Sun said.
"This grant will allow me to develop a sensing technology and prototype a device to look at human exhaled breath and determine with high confidence if there is a correlation between these biomarkers and the presence of lung cancer. If I am successful, the next step would be to collaborate with doctors to fully develop a device that could be used in clinics."
CPRIT grants reward high-risk, high-impact research that can result in major breakthroughs in detecting and treating cancer.
Sun's research is an example of innovative thinking in the area of health and the human condition, a theme in UTA's Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact, said Jonathan Bredow, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering.
"This grant is exciting because of the potential discoveries that could result from it. Dr. Sun has devoted a lot of time and energy to finding ways to detect cancer earlier, faster and in ways that keep patients comfort at the forefront. Her work is expanding the boundaries of photonics applications in healthcare," Bredow said.
Sun earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Award in 2016 to develop an optofluidic laser to detect biomarkers for cancer diagnosis and possibly other genetic disorders at the molecular and cellular level. She is also the principal investigator on another NSF grant to study gas separation and sensing with integrated nanophotonics and nanofluidics.