A Research Center Grows in Bannow

A Research Center Grows in Bannow

Dr. Isaac Macwan’s ongoing research may have implications in the treatment of colorectal cancer, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Fairfield University Media Center

Dr. Isaac Macwan’s ongoing research may have implications in the treatment of colorectal cancer, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the Bannow Science Center, research is ongoing that may have implications in the treatment of colorectal cancer, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.

At the center of this quest for medical breakthroughs is assistant professor of biomedical engineering Isaac Macwan, PhD, whose efforts are enhanced by the use of cutting-edge technology and the active involvement of his engineering faculty members and students. “We all work together for a common goal,” said Dr. Macwan, “and that is looking at the health industry and seeing how we can help people in terms of disease prevention and treatment, and quality of life in general.”

Powerful analytical devices called biosensors are key to this research. In a Bannow lab, faculty and students develop biosensors using techniques such as electrospinning, which synthesizes nanometer-size fibers to fabricate a highly porous, flexible biosensor material used to detect a particular molecule, protein, or other biological material. One of the biosensors being developed is for detection of a hereditary condition called Lynch Syndrome. Although treatable, this disease is hard to diagnose and increases a person’s risk of several cancers including terminal colorectal cancer.

Dr. Macwan explained, “Whenever a cell divides, there is a group of repair proteins that make sure the DNA of the divided cell is all good and not mismatched anywhere.” But, he noted, in some people, there is a deficiency of such repair proteins, and down the line, this leads to mutations which can then lead to Lynch Syndrome.

Employing molecular dynamics simulations based on biophysics and biochemistry, Dr. Macwan and his fellow researchers try to understand the interactions of these mismatched DNA and repair proteins.

In research related to heart function, Dr. Macwan and his colleagues are studying the use of Graphene Oxide (GO) as a therapeutic strategy against heart failure. More specifically, they are looking at the molecular interactions of Graphene Oxide (GO) with Nucleoside Diphosphate Kinase (NDPK).

“In a normal healthy human heart,” Dr. Macwan said, “NDPK plays a vital role in the synthesis of a molecule called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) that regulates the beating of the heart and hence the pumping of blood.”

However, NDPK enzymes must bind with “good” G proteins, which are the molecular switches that transmit signals inside the cells, in order to initiate the synthesis of cAMP. When they instead bind with structurally inferior G proteins, the synthesis of cAMP is inhibited, leading to cardiac arrest.

“We are introducing Graphene Oxide to inhibit the interactions between NDPK and the inferior G proteins,” explained Dr. Macwan. Ultimately, he and his colleagues are looking at why the inhibition of cAMP leads to cardiac arrest.

The interaction between GO and Amyloid Beta (AB) proteins is also being studied in the Bannow lab, to better understand the plaque formation in the brain that leads to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

The body typically clears these AB proteins, but as people age, the proteins can group and anchor or get attached to pathways for the neurons. Over a period of time, plaque forms and gives rise to random structures that stop communication between neurons.

“When neurons can’t communicate, people lose their memory,” Dr. Macwan explained. He and his fellow researchers are experimenting with GO as a way to disintegrate and disperse the plaque formation of the Amyloid Beta Proteins.

“It’s very early, in the preliminary stage, but very promising,” he noted.

By learning skills such as how to use Visual Molecular Dynamics (VMD) software and writing scientific papers, biomedical engineering majors like Jenna Madigan ’22 have enhanced their research experience by learning how to model, simulate, and examine molecular systems. “[Dr. Macwan’s] confidence in us as researchers is inspiring and like him, I hope to work on groundbreaking projects during my career,” said Madigan who is minoring in mathematics and health studies.

Tags:  School of Engineering and Computing


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