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Research of Reidy Center's Andrei Pakhomov Featured in National Cancer Institute Annual Report

Andrei Pakhomov, research associate professor at Old Dominion University's Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, was featured in the National Cancer Institute's latest annual report, which recognizes his expertise in the field of electroporation.

In a chapter of the NCI report, titled "Special Electric Signals Attack Cancer Cells with Lethal Force and Accuracy," Pakhomov is cited as a pioneer in the field of electroporation, where living cells are exposed to extremely short-in-duration, high-voltage pulses of electricity.

"Directing X-ray energy into the body has been a mainstay of cancer therapy since early in the 20th century, but an entirely different approach using electric pulses now shows great promise," the annual report notes.

It indicates that the Reidy Center is the first research center in the United States that is dedicated to this burgeoning field, quoting Pakhomov about the potential of electroporation as a disease killer.

"The idea is to deliver electric pulses of extremely short duration through an electrode directly to a tumor," Pakhomov said in the report. If the pulses last only a matter of nanoseconds (a few billionths of a second), they create an electric field that blows open pores in the cellular membrane and disrupts the internal workings of the cell.

Nanosecond electrical pulses are bad news for the cancer cell in many ways, Pakhomov noted. For example, the cellular membrane normally balances electrically charged molecules inside and outside the cell, but when the pores open up, the cell loses control of what's going in and out. This change in the permeability of the membrane leads to osmotic imbalance. Where "ions pour into the cell, followed by water, you get swelling, and more swelling until they eventually explode," he said. "This is a form of necrotic cell death."

In 2010, Pakhomov received a four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to do broader research into nanoelectroporation. The $1.14 million grant for the project "Mechanisms and Implications of Nanoelectroporation in Living Cells" will allow Pakhomov and the Reidy Center to stay at the leading edge, worldwide, in studying what happens to living cells when exposed to nanosecond-duration, high-voltage electric pulses (nsEP).

"We need to better understand what these pulses do to the cells," said Pakhomov, who came to ODU in 2007 from San Antonio, Texas, where he worked at the Air Force Research Lab at Brooks City-Base and at the University of Texas Health Science Center. "We treat biological cells as 'black boxes' to explore nanosecond pulse effects."

This National Institutes of Health grant follows another NIH grant Pakhomov received in 2008 for research into using nanosecond pulses to kill cancer cells. The principal bio-effect of these pulses is the creation of tiny, stable, voltage- and current-sensitive pores in the membrane of cells, called nanopores. These pores remain in the affected membrane for long periods of time (minutes), to allow access to the cell itself through the membrane.

The process, known as nanoelectroporation, allows for other testing mechanisms to be used on the cells, something that ultimately could promote the development of new medical and research applications using nsEP for deliberate modification of cell functions, particularly in nerve and muscle tissues.

Pakhomov is the principal author of more than 100 publications and presentations about this field of research, and since 2004 has been an associate editor of the journal Bioelectromagnetics.

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