Research that gets results

At Wayne State University, our researchers continue to make major strides with medical innovations. Across our 13 schools and colleges, Warriors are following their passions to develop solutions that combat a variety of diseases. Here, we are proud of our comprehensive approach to clinical care.

Treatments

As they develop new treatments, Wayne State researchers are making big discoveries — and the results are promising.

Super powder

The risk of infection following spine surgery is great enough that surgeons routinely use preventive antibiotics, given intravenously. A first-year student at the Wayne State University School of Medicine was part of a California-based research team who discovered that, when applied before closure, the addition of antibiotic powder decreased postoperative infections.

Our findings were in favor of applying antibiotic powder to supplement intravenous antibiotics due to a significant reduction in number of infections.

Arif Musa

“Ours was the first study to evaluate the use of tobramycin powder in spine surgery,” said Arif Musa, a member of the M.D. Class of 2022. A subset of patients in the study was given vancomycin powder, which was placed directly in the surgical site before closure. Another subset was given both tobramycin and vancomycin powder.

“Our findings were in favor of applying antibiotic powder to supplement intravenous antibiotics due to a significant reduction in number of infections,” said Musa. “What we found was that use of antibiotic powder significantly reduced the rate of infection from 5.7% to 2%. Adding tobramycin reduced the infection rate further to 1.8% , but the difference was not statistically significant when compared to vancomycin alone.”

Musa worked on the project during the spring of 2018 using a multicenter, electronic database search of patients who had posterior instrumented lumbar fusions.

“Surgical site infections are a devastating complication of spine surgery,” Musa continued, “and surgeons are always on the lookout for reducing them, even if the incidence is particularly low.”

A safer solution

The most common form of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) remains one of the 10 leading causes of cancer death in the United States. Each year, more than 60,000 people are diagnosed with the disease, and over 14,000 people die from RCC. Additionally, there are higher incidences of kidney cancer in military personnel and veterans, which may result from toxic exposure to contaminated water, radiation and chemicals.

Arun Iyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences in Wayne State University’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has received a three-year, $611,475 Idea Development Award from the Department of Defense Kidney Cancer Research Program to research new treatment strategies to fight cancer.

The most common form of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma is often diagnosed in the late stages, making it all the more resistant to current treatments.

The study seeks to design and develop a dynamic treatment to help fight the disease. Tumor-seeking nanoparticles will be loaded with unique drug combinations that work together with multiple modes of action, including rejuvenating the body’s immune system.

“Renal cell carcinoma is difficult to treat because it is resistant to many of the current therapies available,” said Iyer. Moreover, RCC is typically diagnosed in the late stages, making it more resistant to current treatments.

Newer combinations of targeted therapies — including better ways of drug delivery and imaging/diagnosis — are needed to combat this malignant disease. The proposed nanoparticles are not only designed to target and kill the tumor cells, but also suppress the tumor-promoting immune cells.

Preliminary results from the research team are promising, and the Department of Defense funding will help validate initial findings that may result in improved drug delivery efficiency, efficacy, and safety that can be applied for future clinical translation.

Testing

Wayne State researchers are advancing testing techniques for physical and mental health conditions to ensure that diagnostic tools are safer, less invasive and more accurate.

Mind-readers

Declarative memory is a key component to everyday life. This type of memory, which can be consciously recalled, improves dramatically throughout childhood and adolescence.

Until recently, there was a critical gap in our understanding of how brain growth drives memory development. But that’s changed, thanks to a team of researchers led by Noa Ofen, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Institute of Gerontology, and Lisa Johnson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Wayne State and the University of California, Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

The precision of these recordings allowed us to provide a unique demonstration of how the developing prefrontal cortex drives the formation of memories of events in our own lives.

Lisa Johnson

To understand how memory works, this research team is gathering electrocorticographic (ECoG) data recorded from the prefrontal cortex in a cohort of 17 children and adolescents. Data was first analyzed per trial on the individual level using non-parametric statistics, and then modeled on the group level.

“The high spatiotemporal precision of these recordings allowed us to provide a unique demonstration of how the developing prefrontal cortex drives the formation of memories of events in our own lives,” said Johnson. “Our research shows that earlier activity predicts greater memory accuracy, and sub-second deviations in activity flow between frontal subregions predict memory formation.”

This study is the first to show that the spatiotemporal propagation of frontal activity supports memory formation in children as young as 6, and show how adjacent frontal subregions follow dissociable developmental trajectories.

Brain trust

Diagnostic imaging offers physicians and scientists an unparalleled view into internal body structures, greatly enhancing clinical analysis and medical intervention. Researchers at Wayne State University continue to break new ground on how various imaging technologies can help us understand the human body.

Mohammad Avanaki, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has adapted several instrumentations to address current unmet clinical needs. One of those centers on photoacoustic imaging to scan an infant’s brain.

Mohammad Avanaki’s lab has developed a compact and portable device to scan the brain of premature infants while addressing the limitations of ultrasound or MRI technology.

Avanaki led a research team seeking to improve the current diagnostic methods used to detect birth-induced brain complications. His lab has developed a compact and portable device, called a multispectral transfontanelle photoacoustic imaging (MTPAI) probe, to scan premature babies for signs of hemorrhage or hypoxia. This technique reflects laser light off of blood cells in the brain to create an acoustic sound that can be picked up and interpreted.

MTPAI addresses many of the limitations of ultrasound or MRI technology, including a low sensitivity to blood. According to Avanaki, “[the probe] for the first time should allow for non-invasive structural and functional imaging of the infant brain.”

The project is a collaboration between the Wayne State Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Powers combined

Biopsies have long been the primary diagnostic procedure used to determine whether a patient has breast cancer. Although the National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that 80% of those who undergo a biopsy do not have breast cancer, the procedure can still result in physical and emotional distress while posing a financial burden on the patient or health care provider.

Developing photoacoustic tomography of a breast opens a lot of opportunities for future development of molecular targeted contrast agents for differential diagnosis of breast cancer sub-types.

Mohammad Mehrmohammadi

To reduce the number of biopsies performed by physicians, a Wayne State University College of Engineering team led by Mohammad Mehrmohammadi, assistant professor of biomedical/electrical and computer engineering, is developing a diagnostic tool that blends ultrasound and photoacoustic technology to enhance the screening and diagnosis of breast cancer.

Together, these combined technologies provide a clearer picture of tissue that could not be achieved otherwise. This may lead to a point-of-care screening and diagnosis process that is fast, accurate and non-invasive.

“Combining ultrasound and photoacoustic provides a whole new range of diagnostic information, such as blood vasculature density and tissue hypoxia, which are known biomarkers for more accurate diagnosis and classification of breast lesions,” said Mehrmohammadi. “In addition, developing photoacoustic tomography of a breast opens a lot of opportunities for future development of molecular targeted contrast agents for differential diagnosis of breast cancer sub-types.”

The technology will be implemented and tested at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute with researchers from the Molecular Imaging and Diagnostics Program.