Research Matters

Research Matters

Ovarian Cancer Detection

With a $340,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Robert Dunn, professor of chemistry at KU, is leading research to simplify ovarian cancer tests using whispering gallery mode resonators.

Episode #105

2 minutes (2.8 MB) | Download mp3


Someday, tests for ovarian cancer could be performed in a doctor’s office with instant results. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Robert Dunn is leading research to simplify ovarian cancer detection using tiny glass beads known as "whispering gallery mode resonators." The microspheres trap laser light and are proven to detect biological clues that indicate disease in the human body. Dunn, a KU professor of chemistry, wants to simplify the chemistry of ovarian cancer screening.

Dunn: The early detection of biomarkers has always been a challenge. Oftentimes, it takes a lot of extra chemistry to develop a signal that’s detectable. We really wanted a technique that could work without all the extra chemistry involved.

Dunn hopes his work will lead to a scenario where doctors could detect or rule out ovarian cancer during routine checkups. An inexpensive device, with a laser about like the one in a CD player, would analyze the blood using the microspheres.

Dunn: There’s not a lot of chemistry involved. It also uses an optical approach. Optics are pretty easy to miniaturize and make cheaper. A CD player in your computer uses a diode laser that costs 10 or 15 bucks. So one can easily envision this becoming a very small and cheap device once we get all the details worked out.

Best of all, Dunn said that the technique could screen for a host of human diseases beyond ovarian cancer.

Dunn: Our specific interest is ovarian cancer. But this is a general approach for detecting biomolecules in general. It works on proteins, RNA, almost any biological molecule you can think of, this is an approach that would work.

For more on whispering gallery mode resonators, log on to For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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Tiny glass beads help detect cancer earlier

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