The National Institutes of Health recently gave UCF researcher Ming Su the New Innovator award, which accompanies a $2 million grant, for creating safer ways to fight cancer with nano-particles radiation.

Su has been working in the field of Nanoscience for ten years, and received his Ph.D. in Nanotechnology. He got his first college degree in China, yet was not exposed to much science, so he did not realize he liked the current field he is working in until he came to America. It wasn’t until about 2010 when Su started to think about using his expertise to fight cancer.

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His third year working on the project, he uses the color of nanoparticles for his research, and his project is specially related to electrons and x-rays. Half of cancer patients will be treated with x-rays, and Su explains how using modern techniques will often damage good tissue around the cancerous area, so he is working to create less-damaging and more effective techniques.

“It’s hard for you to differentiate a cancer cell with a normal cell,” Su said. “When you can kill a cancer cell, it will often cause damage to a normal cell, so it definitely is a challenge.”

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Results have been good and as expected so far, and he is quite motivated and honored by the award he received.

“I’m really honored because the awards are usually for top-notch universities, like Harvard or Yale,” Su said. “The first time, I thought I should try it—the worst answer is they say no. And I still think we have a chance, because in this country, they are fair, as long as you have a good idea.”

Su offers some personal advice to prospective nanoscience students, motivating them to push themselves to do their best.

“I think for nanoscience students, they should definitely open their minds for opportunities,” Su said. “Whatever you can do depends on what you are dreaming, what you want to achieve. You should always feel encouraged to try new stuff, whether it’s a grant application or a job application—if you didn’t sign up, you will never get it.”

There currently are graduate students who will be and who are currently working on research similar to Su’s. Candace Alber and Fiona Zullo, both current UCF students getting their Ph.D.’s in Chemistry, find Su’s project to be important and fascinating. Alber desires to work on a similar cancer prevention project.

“I’d love to know I made a real impact someday,” Alber said. “Cancer is becoming a real problem. Having a healthy lifestyle is important, but it’s also a lot about personal responsibility.”

Zullo realized she liked working on these types of medical projects after having experienced working with Malaria as an undergraduate. Like Su, she is currently working to find more effective cancer treatments.

“I like medical chemistry, because I can help people, using my knowledge,” Zullo said. “Cancer is very difficult to control—you can control things like AIDS, but not cancer. I’m finding ways to fight cancer at an early stage by using probes attached to a polymer to target the cancer cells.”