Fighting disease one cell at a time

Popular Pandey envisions a world where diseases are diagnosed and treated at the cellular level.

For patients being treated for cancer today, well, that’s just not the reality. Cancer treatments are so toxic people often feel very sick afterward. They are nauseous and feel dead tired because the treatment attacks not just the cancer that invaded their body, but the healthy parts of their body, too.

But Pandey, one of three FIU distinguished postdoctoral researchers in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, is working hard to turn the world of science fiction into science fact.

Building on his physics research as a doctoral student at FIU, Pandey is trying to develop a minimally invasive way to inject microscopic genetic material inside a living cell or remove something without destroying the cell outright. The ability to study the same cell over time provides the basis for more accurate monitoring of disease progression, development of new classes of drugs and treatment of diseases as diverse as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Pandey will be working with fellow researchers in FIU biophysicist Jin He’s nanobiophysics lab to monitor the topography and surface potential of the cell membrane to understand how it behaves after the procedure.

“If we know how a single cell behaves, then we can better understand the underlying nanoscale biological processes and functions,” Pandey said.

There was a time when Pandey was much younger and growing up in rural Nepal that he envisioned a different future for himself, however.

Back home, the skies are much clearer. Unmarred by light pollution, the stars, planets and constellations that swirl overhead are much easier to spot. And so, inspired by the nightly view, he dreamed of being an astrophysicist who would unlock the mysteries of the stars.

Working with professor He, however, introduced Pandey to a different application of physics — one that melded it with elements of biology and chemistry. In working instead to uncover the mysteries of how cells respond to changes in real time, there lies hope for being able to help treat people with diseases that are not curable today.

Pandey, for one, hopes his own journey inspires other students to explore all their career options and to embrace new challenges.

FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education Distinguished Postdoctoral program is designed to support and enhance the professional development of promising early-career scholars toward potential placement in tenure-track positions. For more information, click here.