Pratt Fellow Amoozegar Aims for Better Detection of Early Cancer

January 22, 2008

Cyrus Amoozegar, a Pratt Undergraduate Research Fellow in the laboratory of Biomedical Engineering Professor Adam Wax, is working to improve a new, light-based method of early cancer detection. The technology, known as “angle-resolved low coherence interferometry” (a/LCI), can distinguish between cancer and non-cancer by measuring features within the cells that cover the outer surfaces of organs, where most cancers get their start.

Cyrus Amoozegar"It's superior because it is completely non-invasive," Amoozegar said. "Now, doctors have to take a biopsy. This detects cancer by looking at how light scatters—with no tissue removal."

Pre-cancerous cells are characterized by an enlarged nucleus, the structure that houses the cell's genetic material. It is such cellular changes that both pathologists and a/LCI rely on to identify cancer. While Wax's new method has already been shown to work in animal and human tissue, Amoozegar is further validating the methods used to analyze the data a/LCI collects.

"The current system is designed to look at spherical nuclei, but most nuclei are actually spheroidal," meaning that they are stretched, rather than perfect, spheres, he said. "I'm analyzing the models to see what works better. I'm also looking at how we should best process the data to pull out the information we need."

Amoozegar, who is a biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and materials science double major with minors in chemistry and Chinese, said he particularly enjoys that his research lies at the intersection of biology, physics and engineering.

From Chinese to Constructal Theory

As a native of the area, Amoozegar always knew about Duke. He learned more first hand as a high school student, when he took classes at Duke one summer through the pre-college Talent Identification Program (TIP).

"I loved that and I knew Duke had an excellent biomedical engineering department," he said. "That drew me in."

After starting his first year of college, Amoozegar immediately began overloading his schedule in order to take Chinese. He had taken Spanish in high school, but wanted to "do something different." He traveled to Beijing the summer after his first year through the Duke in China program and made it through to fourth-year level Chinese.

"I think Chinese will come in handy," Amoozegar said. "There is a lot of collaborative research in China and an exponential growth of engineers there. It's always useful knowing a foreign language—there are just more people you can talk to."

His interest in physics led him to pursue a second major in MEMS, which he describes as applied physics. One of his MEMS courses on constructal theory, developed by Pratt Professor Adrian Bejan, led him to complete a chapter in one of Bejan's books in which he applied the physics theory to the evolution of languages.

"Constructal theory is about how flow systems change in time," he said. "Language can be thought of as a flow of ideas, evolving from cave drawings and pictures to structures within alphabets and the balance between letters. Bejan presented his constructal theory and I saw the connection."

Amoozegar is also the current director of Innoworks, a summer camp dedicated to encouraging disadvantaged youth to pursue an interest in science and engineering.

He said he always had his sights set on medical school after graduation, but thanks in part to his experience with Pratt Fellows, he is now applying to MD/PhD programs. "Before working in the Wax lab, I had an idea about a PhD, but I wasn't sure. Now I plan to pursue a PhD in an area related to biomedical imaging."