CCIL brings together experts in science, technology, engineering, and health to fight the deadly disease. More than 150 Illinois faculty, research, postdocs, and students – including researchers at the Holonyak Micro & Nanotechnology Laboratory -- have committed to developing new tools and research programs that allow for more advanced and precise diagnostic methods and treatments for all types of cancer.

Holonyak Lab works to establish Digital Diagnostics Foundry for Cancer Center

Holonyak Lab will play an important part in the future of the fight against cancer.
Holonyak Lab will play an important part in the future of the fight against cancer.

The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL), one of the recently established, campus-level “Convergence Institutes” (on par with the Beckman Institute and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology) brings together experts in science, technology, engineering, and health to fight the deadly disease. More than 150 Illinois faculty, research, postdocs, and students – including researchers at the Holonyak Micro & Nanotechnology Laboratory -- have committed to developing new tools and research programs that allow for more advanced and precise diagnostic methods and treatments for all types of cancer.

“In Holonyak Lab, we’re predominantly engineers who are great at building things like sensors, detection instruments, nanostructures, and materials with novel properties” said Brian Cunningham, Holonyak Lab director and co-leader of the CCIL’s Cancer Measurement Technology and Data Science program Steve Boppart, professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE). “When it comes to our partnership with CCIL, this means that we are working on cancer diagnostics tools, such as developing new types of imaging sensors, nanoparticle-based image contrast agents for image-guided surgery, and improving cancer diagnosis by measuring molecules in bodily fluids.”

The lab is also establishing a shared-use facility within Holonyak Lab called the Digital Diagnostics Foundry. The Foundry will serve as the home for state-of-the-art, commercially available tools for ultrasensitive detection of protein and DNA biomarkers for diseases and health conditions. Another purpose of the Foundry is to facilitate the transition of newly developed technologies originating from Illinois research into clinical applications that will eventually become commercially available. The goal is for all the tools in the Foundry to be available to research groups across campus to support a wide variety of studies.

“To have an impact on cancer, engineers need to have collaborations with chemists, biologists, and clinicians who have much more detailed knowledge about cancer genomics, cancer biology, the properties of cancer cells, and the molecules that are involved in the cancer process,” said Cunningham.

The center is seeking support from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) to have official “NCI Designation.” CCIL has partnerships with the Carle Foundation Hospital, OSF Hospital, and Mayo Clinic, which bring clinical expertise to the basic science and engineering advances developed at the University of Illinois. CCIl researchers from across campus currently lead projects in excess of $20M per year in externally funded research.

Rohit Bhargava, CCIL director, believes innovations like the ones coming out of Holonyak Lab are critical to fighting cancer.

“The fundamental advances in sensing and diagnostic technology that take place at Holonyak Lab allow us to increase confidence in our results,” said Bhargava. “The Lab’s unique capability to make diagnostic and sensitive devices means we can check (patients) often, intervene early, and be sure of the results.”