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Volume 71, Issue 154, Thursday, July 27, 2006


Prof works toward safety

New apparatus will help identify biological weapons, cancer, cardiovascular irregularities

by Justin Knapp
The Daily Cougar

Physics professor John Miller is co-developing a new sensor at the UH Science Center that can detect potential bioweapons in sealed packages.

Miller is probing the electromagnetic properties of living organisms along with nonliving organisms.

"We look at how living organisms respond to different frequencies and compare how different parts of cells react to these frequencies," Miller said.

John Miller, physics professor, and his team of assistants conduct research with a device that scans objects and produce images of its contents.

Paul Kim/The Daily Cougar

The new sensor was conceived after 9/11 and is meant to look for signs of life in sealed containers without the risk of opening the package in question.

The sensor can also be applied to many other areas in science and the medical fields.

The device could be used to detect life on Mars, Miller said. The apparatus can detect organisms without relying on DNA. Certain sub-cellular components can be identified.

"Through low frequencies we find correlations with membrane pumps. With high frequencies we find correlations with mitochondria," Miller said.

Another major area that the device and techniques are being applied to is detecting human diseases. The invention has the potential to serve as a tool in the medical field.

"The scanner opens the door for new medical scans that could detect (cancer). Lung cancer in particular is often diagnosed when it is too late for effective treatment or will become drug resistant. With this technology we can hopefully detect it in its first stages," Miller said.

The technology may result in new drugs for cancer and many other diseases.

Miller is starting discussions with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that may result in a collaboration. The two entities will work on new methods and techniques to detect cancer as it is forming.

Through detecting enzyme complexes, certain types of cells, such as cancer, can be detected and later identified.

"Right now we are just scratching the surface of biophysics. There are limitless possibilities to study when you think about the Earth and everything on it," Miller said.

The apparatus can also be used in cardiology. By tracking the cellular components, Miller said he hopes to catch abnormalities before they become problems. 

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