Biola Professor Leads Team of Scientists in Groundbreaking Work to Destroy Cancer Cells

Professor Richard Gunasekera publishes new and unprecedented research using nanotechnology for biomedical research.

Feb. 25, 2020 By Marc DeJager

Biola University Professor of Biological Sciences and Biochemistry Richard Gunasekera and a team of researchers recently discovered a potential counterattack to cancer cells and infection-causing bacteria. The team used nanotechnology and applied it to the medical field. This new technology has the potential to dramatically advance treatments for some of the deadliest diseases and cancers.  

 

In 2016, Gunasekera began working with James Tour, head researcher at Rice University, to apply nanomachines in a biomedical context. The team used nanotechnology to attack and destroy infection causing bacteria and cancer cells. They used the nano machines as tiny drills, designed to punch straight through cancer cell walls. Their research showed that the nanomachines were capable of targeting cancerous cells while leaving control cells untouched. 

 

“Our goal is to take the research from the bench to the bedside,” said Gunasekera. 

 

Over half a million people die every year from cancer in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in America, behind only heart disease. Deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, have also been on the rise, hitting 35,000 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

Gunasekera and Tour’s research is now being conducted at Biola. It now focuses on using the nano drills to directly attack bacteria, more specifically superbugs. 

 

“These ‘superbugs’ are a completely different kind of animal,” said Gunasekera. 

Superbugs are bacteria that have become resistant to the drugs and antibiotics that were able to kill them in the past. 

"Most bacteria have multi-layered cell walls. For example, Klebsiella pneumoniae has a three layered cell wall,” said Gunasekera. “Some bacteria build up further resistance to drugs by causing a genetic mutation that makes the thick cell wall to resist antibiotics, classifying them as an extensively drug-resistant strain. But we believe that these bacteria have no way to biochemically alter themselves to resist a physical attack – such as a minuscule machine drilling a hole in their membrane – leaving them totally helpless against the tiny drills."

Gunasekera and his team used their new defensive technology to almost entirely kill off a colony of Klebsiella pneumoniae, the strain of bacteria that causes pneumonia. Traditionally, the drug meropenem has been used to fight pneumonia, but it is growing less reliable as superbugs become more common. Used in combination with the nano drills, the meropenem was able to penetrate the cell membranes, killing more than 96 percent of the pneumonia bacteria. This mechanical solution to a chemical problem has significant implications for medical advancement. 

“I am thankful to God for His leading in our lives, and for giving us the wisdom and knowledge to seek out this miracle of His creation,” said Gunasekera.

This research will continue to be developed and refined. If findingings continue to be promising, this technology has the potential to be used to attack any dangerous microbe, including but not limited to viruses such as AIDS, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and even the new COVID19 virus. The joint team at Biola and Rice Universities plan to continue testing and development of this technology, with the hopes to make it usable for treatment within the next few years.

Written by Marc DeJager, iBiola intern. For more information email media.relations@biola.edu


 

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