Biomedical engineering researcher aims to improve cancer treatment

Doctoral candidate named Engineer of the Month

Ahmet Kaynak is developing a method for cancer treatment that uses electricity to target cancer cells. Kaynak, a University of Cincinnati biomedical engineering doctoral candidate, seeks to use his research to create therapies with fewer side effects than current cancer treatments. Kaynak’s work took on new meaning after his young daughter became a cancer survivor. Kaynak was named Graduate Student Engineer of the Month by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Why did you choose your field of study?

Biomedical engineering is a combination of medicine and engineering. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in bioengineering where I learned about the principles of engineering, physics, thermodynamics, bioprocess, etc., and had a chance to apply these techniques by working in a biotechnology company as a bioprocess engineer. In my doctoral work, I wanted to do research in a field where I can combine engineering principles with medicine. Biomedical engineering was the right decision for that.

Qi Lab

Ahmet Kaynak, a University of Cincinnati biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate, is researching a new method using electricity to isolate and target cancer cells. Photo/provided.

Describe your research work. What is the end goal?

Electric fields technology has been used in clinics in many applications such as bone healing, brain stimulation, tissue ablation or drug delivery. My current research focuses on developing a new therapeutic approach for cancer using electric fields. It aims to enhance the efficacy of biomarker-driven therapy in clinic and elucidate the mechanism of electric field-driven biomarker therapy. I focused on cancer research in my Ph.D. because I want to do research on something that has a chance of being translated into the clinic and hopefully make an impact on patients' lives in the future.

In addition to my project, I have been involved in several research projects in the lab of Xiaoyang Qi, professor in UC's College of Medicine at the UC Cancer Center. It is a pleasure for me to work with a great team. I have an opportunity to work with very talented colleagues in Dr. Qi’s lab which contributes to my knowledge in the field of oncology. 

My longterm goal is to apply a unique electric field modality for a non-contact electrotherapy cancer treatment in clinic. In recent years, research on the effects of electric field on tumor cells has made a series of breakthroughs. However, clinically available modalities are limited to electroporation and low intensity tumor-treating field for treating cancer. Although biomarker-driven cancer therapy has growing interest in cancer treatment, there is a critical research gap between targeting cancer-related biomarkers and enhancing biomarker-matched targeted therapies by using electric field.

The technology that we have developed works by employing the specifically designed electric field modality that can penetrate the cancer cells and modulate the expression of the cancer biomarker called phosphatidylserine with the aim of sensitizing the cells phosphatidylserine-targeted treatments. With UC collaborators Daria Narmoneva, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Andrei Kogan, associate professor of physics, we have filed a patent application (Combination Therapy of Electric Fields and an Additional Treatment for Cancer and imaging, Pub. No: US 2021/0106819). 

[Kaynak was featured in a January 2020 story that further describes his research.]

What accomplishments bring you the most pride?

Having doctoral education in the U.S. is a dream for international students. Proudly, I got a highly competitive scholarship funded by Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Education to do my doctoral research in the U.S. After joining UC, I have three publications in peer-reviewed journals and three publications in preparation. Since coming to the University of Cincinnati, I have received multiple honors and recognition. My project was selected in 2018 for the Interdisciplinary Research Fellowship Award by UC Graduate Student Government.

What inspires you to work hard every day in your field?

I think one of the biggest motivations for me to do research in the cancer field is my daughter. My daughter is a pediatric cancer survivor. This also reminds me how important it is to have research in the cancer field and try to improve the treatments with the aim of saving lives and reducing the side effects of current treatments.

How do you spend your free time?

Apart from academic experiences, it’s also important to learn about other cultures and to be part of social activities. I enjoy attending international friendship group activities and meet with new friends and learning about their culture. I love Cincinnati parks. In my spare time, I take my family and go to the parks to go hiking or camping and enjoy the beauty of nature. To me, that is the best way to get rid of stress.