Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Lab Reports

Diagnostic Breathprints

Here’s a breathtaking advance: Professor Jane Hill is analyzing human breath to quickly and noninvasively identify pathogens that cause flu, pneumonia, and other lung infections. Using secondary electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (SESI-MS), she has developed ways to take “breathprints” to diagnose lung infections caused by potent bacterial pathogens such as Staphylococcus, Legionella, Streptococcus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Hill Tuberculosis
Photograph courtesy of Jane Hill.

According to Hill, the breath-based diagnostics would yield results in less than a minute for use in determining stages of infection. “A truly exciting development is that SESI-MS breathprinting not only detects acute lung disease almost instantaneously, it also allows us to determine the direction of infection so treatment is more effective,” she says. “We are identifying a core set of breath markers that can be used to determine if the patient has only been exposed to the infection, currently has the infection, or if the infection has been cleared.”

In one study, Hill and her researchers are collecting breath samples from South African patients who have active pulmonary tuberculosis, which kills more than 1.5 million people each year. In another study, Hill and postdoctoral fellow Heather Bean are collecting breath samples from the New Hampshire Cystic Fibrosis Network, which includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, to diagnose Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the primary cause of the chronic lung infections and consequent damage responsible for most morbidity and mortality in persons with cystic fibrosis.

“We hope that in the near future, patients will be able to walk into their doctor’s office and through a non-invasive breath test instantly determine the cause of illness, resulting in more effective treatment,” says Hill.

—Kirsten Mabry

Karl Griswold Nanopaticles
Karl Griswold. Photograph by John Sherman.

Nanoparticles for Breast and Ovarian Tumors

Professor Karl Griswold’s research team is making progress in using nanoparticles to selectively target breast and ovarian cancer cells. A recent paper, “Antibody-mediated targeting of iron oxide nanoparticles to the Folate receptor alpha increases tumor cell association in vitro and in vivo,” published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine, reports the group’s findings.

Whereas radiation and traditional drug therapies damage normal as well as malignant cells, nanoparticles have the potential to search out and destroy cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. But getting nanoparticles to target tumors depends on numerous factors, including nanoparticle size and composition, molecular targeting, surface chemistry, route of administration, cancer cell type, and tumor location. Griswold’s group succeeded in getting antibody-targeted iron oxide nanoparticles to accumulate inside breast and ovarian tumor tissues following systemic administration.

“The ultimate utility of anti-cancer nanoparticle technologies will depend in large part on their capacity to selectively home to cancer cells,” says Griswold. But, he adds, “achieving optimal targeting of nanoparticles in clinically relevant scenarios remains a key challenge.”

According to Griswold, collaboration is essential. “In studying cancer at Dartmouth, we are committed to team science,” he says. “Solutions to problems like these require trans-disciplinary collaborations operating at the complex interfaces between molecular biotechnology, nanotechnology, biology, and medicine.”

Categories: The Great Hall, Lab Reports

Tags: engineering in medicine, faculty, research

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