Dr. Min Xu is on the verge of an advance in the science of cancer detection.

Dr. Xu is also forming crucial partnerships with some of Fairfield’s most high-profile researchers. He’s working with Dr. Shelley Phelan, professor of biology and Elizabeth DeCamp McInerny Chair of Health Sciences, on a joint project to develop a new type of microscopy to detect and distinguish cancer cells. Dr. Phelan, a molecular cell biologist, specializes in the study of regulation and function of cancer cells. She and her student researchers are using well-tested methods – dye-based assays – to view cells dividing or going through cell death. Down the hall, Dr. Xu’s students are using the optical tools to see if they can mirror her results, ideally showing light-based detection methods are just as effective, she said.

“It’s really a perfect synergy between his expertise and mine,” said Dr. Phelan, whose students bounce between the two labs. “The research experience the students have gained in both culturing cancer cells and using those cells to test the new microscopy method has provided them with a truly unique set of skills that neither Min nor I individually have.”

The University is keeping its eye on the potential commercial opportunities created as a biproduct of Dr. Xu’s pursuits. Ben Muskin, the University’s technology transfer consultant, said Fairfield has filed patents to protect the intellectual property related to the optical biopsy work. Muskin said Dr. Xu’s research may lead to a license with an outside company or a start-up business venture for Fairfield. “We have had discussions with potential corporate partners,” he said. “He is on the verge of providing proof of concept data that would make it very attractive to companies.”

Though it often takes years of hard work and many setbacks to reach a goal in science, Dr. Xu said his fascination with his field and the possibility of helping others through his technology never dims. “There are so many unknowns for light,” he said. “It’s a fascinating field to work on. And I am fascinated also by the prospect of not only doing research, but doing good.”

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