Cancer and sepsis are two major diseases facing the world. A Texas Tech professor and his research team are trying to make improvements to these global medical problems.
Dimitri Pappas, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, said he is conducting research in two areas of medical diseases.
“One is cancers, primarily leukemia and breast cancer,” Pappas said. “And then we also work in the field of sepsis and septic shock, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.”
Pappas has been working in the cancer field for about 10 years and in the sepsis field for about seven years, he said. He has always had an interest in medical testing.
“I worked at Johnson Space Center at NASA, and I was working in the biology division, developing medical tests for the space station, and so I've always had an interest in better, faster and cheaper ways to do medical testing,” Pappas said.
He became interested in cancer research because it is a widespread global issue, Pappas said. He is also interested in sepsis because not much is known about the disease.
“Even though it’s a major cause of death in the United States, it is actually not well known by most people,” Pappas said.
These two fields of medicine are widespread because they kill and impact a lot of people, Pappas said.
“I’m interested in complex problems, and I’m interested in problems that have a large impact on society,” Pappas said. “I really got into them because I want to make a large impact on these diseases.”
Pappas recently received a new grant from the National Science Foundation to help fund his research.
“Our new grant is to develop nanomaterials, small nano-scale objects, that will be used to identify cancer cells and some of the proteins on their surface, which we can use as a marker for cancer,” Pappas said.
This will allow Pappas and his team to better understand how cancer cells behave, he said.
What he hopes to accomplish through his research is two-fold, Pappas said.
“I hope to develop a series of inexpensive accessible tests that can be administered in any kind of medical setting for cancer and for sepsis,” Pappas said.
He hopes these tests will allow cancer and sepsis to be detected earlier and more accurately, Pappas said.
Bhagya Wickramaratne, a graduate student from Sri Lanka, said she enjoys working with Pappas because he encourages her to be creative.
She is interested in researching cancer because it impacts a lot of people and wants to help make a difference in the testing process, Wickramaratne said.
“The earlier people get detected, the higher chances of survival, so if I can make that easier for other people with my work, I like it,” Wickramaratne said.
Shelby Thompson, a graduate student from Dallas, said she worked in Pappas’ research group while completing her undergraduate degree and decided to stay researching with him for graduate school.
“I liked the research that he was doing,” Thompson said. “I looked at research being done at other universities and nothing really grabbed my attention the way Dr. Pappas’ research did.”
She appreciates how the research all has practical application to the real world, Thompson said.
“I like that we are actually taking time to try and improve the methods by which these things are detected and treated,” Thompson said. “Our research has real world impact, instead of just being purely theoretical.”
The research being done is based on trial and error, which has taught Thompson about the importance of patience, she said.
“I've learned a lot about how to be patient and how to accept failures when it happens and to learn from it,” Thompson said. “I’m learning how to see where things are going instead of just where they are, which I think will help me regardless of what I end up doing after school.”