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BioE professor wins award for photobiology research

By Stephanie Jennings     5/15/08 7:00pm

The American Society of Photobiology awarded Associate Bioengineering Professor Rebekah Drezek the New Investigator Award in March. Drezek, also an electrical engineering associate professor, was awarded $1,000 and will speak about her research in June at the society's annual meeting in San Francisco. Drezek is the first bioengineer to receive this award.According to its Web site, the American Society of Photobiology gives the New Investigator Award to a young researcher under the age of 36 who has conducted a notable amount of research in photobiology and photomedicine, a discipline of biology that studies applications of light and optics in biology and medicine. The award is also open to researchers who are new to the field. Honorees are nominated anonymously and selected by a committee.

Drezek said the committees usually award researchers in the fundamental biosciences.

"I think a lot of these areas that tended to be very basic-science focused are starting to see the value of engineering technology in moving their field forward," Drezek said. "A lot of places where you wouldn't see engineers [in the past], you're starting to see bioengineering growing ... and seeing it more accepted and valued as a discipline. You don't just have to be talking to engineers - everyone cares about it."

Drezek researches new technologies for breast and ovarian cancer detection. Her research group works with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine to run protocols and clinical trials with technologies developed in her lab at Rice.

"It's really important for us to develop technologies that have the opportunity to be translated and used in patient care, so we can have the opportunity to get information really early on in terms of whether we're heading in the right kind of direction or not," Drezek said.

Drezek said her research group looks for gaps in the cancer treatment process and seeks to develop ways to monitor cancer through less invasive and cheaper methods of detecting and imaging. To this end, her lab developed fiberoptic probes to create high-image resolution of tissue biopsies. She said her research in the long run will aim to minimize the number of biopsies required for cancer detection. Currently, her research focuses on allowing doctors to better select the kind of biopsy to perform.

Drezek said modern technology has enabled scientists to study cancer differently than they used to.

"Cancer's been diagnosed the same way for the past 200 years," she said. "You yank out a piece of tissue. You section it. You stain it. You look at it under a microscope, and the pathologist is looking for changes in the molecular structure and changes in the nuclei. However, you can look at this with optical technology and look at more specific molecular changes."

Drezek said the award is about receiving honors rather than a large grant.

"Any of these kinds of awards help bring recognition to your group and university," Drezek said. "They help you feel that the projects you've spent your life trying to push forward are worthwhile and that people are noticing what you're doing.

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