Ulas Sunar, PhD.

Ulas Sunar, PhD, is developing a device that could be especially useful for detecting and treating cancers of the ovaries, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and oral cavity.

Researchers Develop Device to Find and Destroy Cancer Cells

Published January 22, 2015

University at Buffalo researchers have designed a biomedical device that could make chemotherapy more efficient, reduce its side effects and improve how doctors treat some of the most deadly forms of cancer.

“We expect that doctors in the operating room will greatly benefit from this device.”
Ulas Sunar, PhD
Research assistant professor of biomedical engineering

“We are developing a novel endoscopic device that will improve our ability to detect and destroy cancer cells,” says Ulas Sunar, PhD, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

Overcoming Deficiencies of Conventional Imaging

Sunar’s specialized endoscope produces a high-contrast map of the tumor environment using spatial frequency domain imaging. The new technique projects patterns of light at different frequencies on the cancer cells and corrects the image contrast for the light attenuation.

The endoscope thus overcomes the limitations of conventional endoscopic imaging, which leads to blurred or low-contrast images of the tumor environment and limits doctors’ ability to visualize tumors.

“We expect that doctors in the operating room will greatly benefit from this device,” says Sunar.

Targeting Cancer Cells with Unprecedented Accuracy

The endoscope works in tandem with tiny nanoballoons — developed by Jonathan F. Lovell, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering — to target cancer cells.

When the nanoballoons reach the cancer cells, doctors strike them with the endoscopic light beam, causing them to pop open and release the chemotherapy drugs they carry. This precision targeting protects healthy cells, thereby reducing side effects.

To effectively target the intravenously delivered nanoballoons, doctors need to control the light beam. Sunar is developing a “digital mask” that adjusts the beam’s intensity and manipulates its shape down to micron precision, using a computer.

“The mask is like the bat-signal from Batman movies; it alters the shape of the light,” he says. “At the same time, we’ll be able to control the strength of the light. The combination will allow us to manipulate the beam to target cancer cells with unprecedented accuracy.”

Device May Help Treat Various Types of Cancer

Sunar’s system could be especially useful for treating ovarian cancer that has spread to the abdomen, as well as cancer in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, oral cavity and other internal organs.

Sunar will spend much of 2015 developing the system and then test it on animal models. 

A grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering supports the project, “Quantitative Endoscopic Imaging and Structured Light Delivery for Controlled Drug.”

After completing the grant project in mid-2016, Sunar expects to begin a pilot study with Shashikant Lele, MD, emeritus clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and clinical chief of gynecologic oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.