Research in the NANOCURE (Nanotechnology-based Analysis Of Cancer through Undergraduate Research Experience) project involves the analysis of cancer therapeutics using a multidisciplinary approach that integrates biology, engineering, nanotechnology, optics, and more. Specifically, NANOCURE is interested in the potential for cesium, an alkali metal, to act as a cancer therapeutic using microfluidics and Raman spectroscopy.

Description of Research

The main purpose of this research project is to isolate cells, specifically cancer cells. The cell is the fundamental unit of biological organisms and it is very important to study single cells in order to improve treatment methods. The mechanical devise used to isolate single cells is a microfluidic device.

A microfluidic device consists of small channels that can transport small amounts of fluids from one location to another. These small channels allow for control and manipulation of the fluids to provide the opportunity to isolate single cells. To verify changes in these single cells, Raman spectroscopy, which uses laser light, is used to provide a structural fingerprint.

One of the goals of biology is to understand how cells work. This goal require various approaches for measurements on a single cell, maintaining its structural integrity. Microfuidics can provide a solution for cell isolation and analysis. Microfluidic devices have emerged as distinct new structures that can precisely control the transport of fluids through channels at the micro and nano scale, and therefore have the ability to control and study small particles over time.

Our research uses microfluidic technology to manipulate movement of human colorectal carcinoma cells and entrap single cells. 

Previous research at UW-Platteville demonstrated that cesium treatment eliminated colorectal tumors in mice without noticeable adverse effects. Complementary alternative medicine therapies based on the use of cesium chloride preparations for the treatment of cancer and radiation poisoning, have generated therapeutic interest.

However, oral or intravenous administration of cesium chloride (CsCl) to cancer patients as an alternative mode of cancer therapy have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.).  Our project investigates cesium’s suppressive effect human colorectal carcinoma cells in vitro.

The biochemical output of cancer cells is vastly different from normal cells, and in particular, cancer cells are highly acidic. A biocompatible microfluidic device capable of measuring the extracellular pH of human colorectal carcinoma cells was developed. The sensor’s electrodes consist of a silver chloride reference electrode and an iridium oxide-working electrode that provides real time voltage output in the mV range. Calibration was performed via linear regression of induced voltage as a function of pH, and the slope, or Nernstian value, provided relationship of 53mV/pH of the device.

Current studies are being conducted to incorporate the pH sensor into a microfluidic device that isolates single cells. In addition, future research include Raman spectroscopy to provide quantitative information of the biochemical output of cells. Raman spectroscopy will be used to verify changes in biochemical composition that correspond to cellular pH changes with cesium treatment.

Academic Areas of Focus

This project is related to biology because it involves the use of microfluidics technology to study cell biology. Microfluidic devices enables studies of cell behavior from single to multi-cellular organisms.

Nanotechnology ("nanotech")
This project operates in the design, fabrication and testing of micro- or nano-scale fluidic platforms. Some microfluidic devices rely on photolithography, a nanotechnology process, for fabrication.

This project requires the understanding of the fundamentals of fluid mechanics for applications in the biomedical and engineering areas. For example, it is important to understand the different driving forces for controlling fluid flows in smaller scales to isolate single cells.

Senior Design: a Capstone Design Experience
Senior Design is about students, working in small teams and tackling design challenges. Part of the success of the NANOCURE research is due to the work of several senior design teams.

  • Spring 2017 Mechanical senior design, designed and fabricated a microscope X-Y stage with precision motion to locate cancer cells in a microfluidics device.
    The team members: Jeremy Borg, Matt Dittmer, Adam Gagliardi, Tyler Huttenlocher, and Dan Wright.
  • Fall 2016 Mechanical senior design, designed and fabricated a microfluidic chip holder that allows one to control the temperature of the chip and provide electrical connections to the chip.
    The team members: Adriana Hernandez-Berrios, Austin Gaspar, Derek Thieme, Jacob Ahrenholtz, and Nicholas Devroy.
  • Spring 2016 Mechanical senior design, designed and fabricated a Raman Spectroscope to analyze cancer cells by obtaining vibrational information of molecules like chemical bonds.
    The team members: Bradley A Devroy, Victoria J Dittmann, Patrick T Meicher, Kevin M Norris, and Brian E Weiss.

Application and Career Opportunities

There are many career opportunities for students with experience in microfluidics-based medical devices.

  • Research from this project has been presented at the following events:

  • Faculty

    Jorge Camacho, PhD
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Mechanical Engineering

    Dr. Camacho's research interests include Thermo/Fluid Systems, Microfluidics, Thermal and Physical Properties of Nanostructured Materials, Thermoelectric Materials, and Renewable Energy.

    He has enjoyed with with students across the College of EMS and the College of BILSA and watching them develop their professional skilss.

    Associated Faculty

    Marilyn J. Tufte, PhD

    Dr. Tufte's research interests include Alkaline-Based Cancer Therapeutics, Immunology, and Microbiology.

    The ingenuity, creativity, and dedication of our students is impressive. The potential to obtain collaborating, supporting, and significant data is awesome using new and innovative techniques.

    Joseph Wu, PhD

    Dr. Wu's research interests include Electrochemistry and Nanomaterials.

    This rewarding and enjoyable experience comes from observing Jessica Symons and her teammates tackling the project with their passion and innovative ideas. I support them by checking their ideas and providing them departmental facilities and the resources to succeed. 


    Kolt Bode
    Lead Student Researcher

    Major: Mechanical Engineering
    Minor: Biotechnology
    Research Interests: Regenerative Medicine

    Through my involvement in NANOCURE, I have come to appreciate and enjoy the interpersonal collaborations involving biology and engineering.

    Bridget White
    Lead Student Researcher

    Major: Engineering Physics
    Minor: Microsystems and Nanotechnology, Biotechnology
    Research Interests: Medical Research, MEMS/Nanotechnology, Neuroscience

    The project has provided me with an opportunity to combine my research interests in biology and engineering. In addition, I have learned a lot about important professional practices that will held me in my future endeavors. 

    John Dank
    Research Assistant

    Major: Biology
    Research Interests: Medical Research

    I have learned to never hesitate when it comes to opportunities of a lifetime. I have also learned many professional skills, such as researching in a lab setting and presenting research.

    Carley Traverse
    Research Assistant

    Major: Biology
    Research Interests: Molecular Biology, Cell Biology

    I have learned how to carry myself in a more professional manner, which is very useful for interviews and networking.


    Jessica Symons
    Previous Lead Student Researcher (Alumni)

    Major: Engineering Physics
    Minor: Microsystems and Nanotechnology, and Biotechnology
    Research Interests: Nanocarriers, Cancer Therapeutics, Experimental Therapeutics, Raman Spectroscopy, Microfluidics, Research Mentoring

    This project continually challenges me to further develop my cross-functional leadership and communication skills. My most rewarding experience has been observing other students developing their leadership skills and mentoring them to take on leadership roles within the project; it makes me happy to know that the momentum of the project and the students will stay strong even after I have graduated.

    Nicole Maala
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)

    Major: Engineering Physics
    Minor: Spanish
    Research Interests: Mechatronics, Automation and Controls, Mechanical Design, Interfacing Software

    This project has been an exceptional opportunity to work on a research project with faculty and students from many different backgrounds. 

    Bryan Reyes
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)

    Major: Engineering Physics
    Research Interests: Aerospace, Material Science

    My favorite part of the project is collaborating with people from different disciplines, which in turn grants me the opportunity to learn a new or different perspective of applications in science.

    Katie Schulteis
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)

    Major: Biology-Molecular Genetics
    Research Interests: Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Stem Cells, Immunology

    My main focus of the project was to culture cancer and non-cancer cell lines with correct aseptic technique to determine dosage levels of the therapeutic. These skills will hep me as I go on to further my degree and work in industry.

Join our Research Group

We are always looking for highly motivated students. If you are interested in a more in-depth research experience such as an independent study credit, please contact Dr. Jorge Camacho if you are majoring in engineering and you think that NANOCURE is the right project for you. We welcome all engineering majors. 

Please contact Dr. Miranda Bader if you are majoring in biology and think that NANOCURE is the right project for you. 

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