Research at Rensselaer

RPI professor studies cancer treatment, paint enzymes

Professor Jonathan Dordick’s research builds upon biological molecules found in nature. With his involvement in improving the effectiveness of biopsies and developing paints that kill bacteria on contact, Dordick busily oversees the research for a myriad of different projects.

Dordick manages a lab of around 25 researchers in addition to holding a position as Vice President of Research at RPI.

Initially, the lab started studying microfluidic systems: micron-sized, long channels that could conduct solutions. These solutions could contain enzymes, other biological molecules, small molecules, drugs, or chemicals; then, the effect on cells could be viewed. Developing on this idea, the lab evolved to using microarray-based systems and developed a DataChip. Essentially, a DataChip is a 3-dimensional cell chip that contains anywhere from 500 to over 1000 hemispherical spots. In each spot, a different drug can be tested and evaluated.

In this process, several viable human cells reside in each 30-60 nanoliter spot. The lab can study the effect of different drugs on selectively killing cancer cells.

Eventually, this process can be used to improve biopsies. During a biopsy, only small amounts of materials can be obtained. However, the DataChip process requires few cells to test the drugs. Even with only a few hundred cells, a multitude of drugs could be tested on both normal and cancerous cells. Consequently, individualized treatments without the negative aspects of chemotherapy could be developed for cancer patients.

“We could take those biopsy samples with individual cell types in the individual spots, and then we could screen the cancer drugs to see which one would be most effective for that particular cell type,” explained Dordick. “Very quickly, within a matter of days, we could tailor the specific therapy to that patient.”

Currently, the lab is collaborating with the University of California Berkeley under a National Institutes of Health grant. The researchers at Berkeley focus on the various aspects of the matrix of the 3-dimensional cultures and how the cells get incorporated into the matrix. Dordick’s lab studies the involved biochemical pathways that become affected by chemicals, as well as conducting high-throughput screenings.

Along with colleague Douglas Clark at Berkeley, Dordick has launched a company called Solidus Biosciences. The company aims to improve drug development by providing the effective and efficient technology.

Overall, the lab focuses on three main areas of research. The first area broadly focuses on tools for drug discovery in order to enhance the efficiency of discovering better drugs.

A second area of focus concentrates on biocatalysism and bioprocessing where they look at how to identify or isolate new enzymes.

The lab also focuses on nanobiology, where the emphasis is placed on understanding how biological molecules, like proteins, interact with nonbiological materials, like nanoparticles. Additionally, they strive to understand both biological and nonbiological particles at the most fundamental levels of structure, function, and dynamics. On the applied level, they investigate where and what the usages of these particles are. The lab has developed paints and coatings that can kill methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus on contact.

“Nature never intended to put an enzyme into a paint, right?” said Dordick. “So, we have to understand what the environment is like for the enzyme. In some cases, we need to improve how we incorporate those enzymes into the paint, and sometimes we actually have to improve on the enzyme using molecular biology techniques.”