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Sources: Patrick Barney,;
and Chris Culbertson, 785-532-6685,
News release prepared by: Andrew Morris, 785-532-2535,

Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010


MANHATTAN -- A visiting undergraduate at Kansas State University is working to detect cancer in its earliest stages, and to better understand the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

Patrick Barney, a senior at Truman State University in Missouri, is participating in an undergraduate research opportunity at K-State. Barney is working with Chris Culbertson, associate professor of chemistry, to find a cheaper and more reliable way to detect cancer-inducing cell mutations.

"Certain cells undergo mutations that lead to cancer. The hope is to find a process that allows for early detection of these mutations, therefore catching the cells in the early stages and treating the patient before the cancer gets too bad," said Barney, a Kansas City, Mo., resident.

To do this, Barney and Culbertson are experimenting on white blood cells.

Data is collected by loading fluorescent dye into the white blood cells; the dye interacts with specific molecules inside each cell. The cells are then loaded into a microfluidic chip -- a device that has channels thinner than the diameter of a human hair. A laser is focused into a channel, and the dye emits a green glow when it interacts with a protein of interest inside the cell, Culbertson said.

An electric field is then introduced to the channel, where it lyses -- or disintegrates -- the cell membrane, resulting in all of the substances within the cell, called lysate, to fill the channel, Culbertson said. Finally, the electric field separates the dyes, and they are detected by a laser.

Barney and Culbertson have been able to demonstrate that they can measure the activity of some potentially cancer-causing proteins using this method.

The National Science Foundation has funded various fields of study for the last 15 years at K-State to support summer undergraduate research experiences. The experiences are intended to stimulate the students' interest in graduate education and a research career. The program invites students from across the country to conduct research in a supportive environment.