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Physicist Focuses on Cancer Detection With Laser Precision

Edward Van Keuren

Edward Van Keuren, associate professor and chair of the physics department at Georgetown, has found himself in the middle of groundbreaking research in two vital areas: medicine and energy.

November 18, 2008 – Physics professor Edward Van Keuren’s research puts him in the middle of two vital areas: medicine and energy.

His collaboration with the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center has him working to develop nanoparticles for cancer diagnosis.

“Small tumors are difficult to see in MRIs,” explains Van Keuren, who also serves as physics department chair. “We are focused on creating contrast agents that will help to make an image brighter so one can see it, and thus a small tumor, more clearly.”

Early, Easy Detection

Van Keuren’s project with Lombardi is two-fold. The first part involves examining new microscopic nanoparticles to create contrast agents to help more easily detect small, hard-to-see tumors in a magnetic resonance image (MRI).As early diagnosis has been defined as crucial in successful cancer treatment, Van Keuren hopes this research, being carried out in collaboration with members of the university’s chemistry department, will assist in that effort.

While the first part of this project involves early cancer diagnosis, the second part examines the uses of nanoparticles for cancer treatment.

“We are trying to use nanoparticles in conjunction with some of the cancer center’s new technology to actually kill cancer cells,” Van Keuren says.

Developing the Next Generation of Scientists

In addition to his research, the professor strongly holds a mission to provide guidance to the next generation of scientists.“Ed is one of the best teachers in the department, having won the College Dean’s Teaching Award this year,” says James Freericks, physics professor and co-director of undergraduate studies. “He is great in the classroom, but truly excels with teaching undergraduate students how to do research in the laboratory.”

Physics major Andrew Molchan (C’10) had Van Keuren last fall for Methods of Experimental Physics and says he has benefited from the professor’s instruction.

“In class, he presents material in a very straightforward way,” he says. “He takes the time to fully explain concepts, rather than just giving outlines of an idea and leaving the student to piece everything together.”

As a graduate student in Van Keuren’s lab, Maki Nishida (C’05, G’10) attests to the professor’s enthusiasm in teaching. Nishida not only learned from Van Keuren as a student, but also as his teaching assistant.“His passion to teach has encouraged me to learn and explore challenging subjects,” she says.

Van Keuren hopes his efforts will continue to contribute to advancements in both medicine and energy. To continue work toward that goal, he has joined colleagues from Lombardi and other science faculty at the university in an organization called GC Fit – a center for cross-campus collaboration where faculty members combine resources across the sciences to address medical problems.

“It feels really good to contribute,” Van Keuren says. “I would do this anyway, but it’s nice to have it mean something more than just research for research’s sake.”

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