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Biomedical Engineer Receives Grant to Further His Research into Using Robotics for Cancer Detection and Monitoring

DEPARTMENT(S): 
April 15, 2021

Haichong (Kai) Zhang, assistant professor of Robotics Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, has received a $445,742, five-year grant to continue his ongoing research into creating robotic systems to use minimally invasive technologies to safely and accurately detect and monitor cancer.

Zhang’s grant is part of a larger project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by Martin Pomper, director of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and professor of Radiology and Radiological Science at Johns Hopkins University. Pomper received a total of $2,266,703 for his work to create an innovative, targeted chemical compound that can be used during imaging to enable better detection and treatment of aggressive forms of cancer. Zhang, a co-investigator on the project and a subcontractor on the award, will focus on designing and creating a photoacoustic imaging apparatus, which will be part of his diagnostic imaging robot, to evaluate the chemical contrast agents that Pomper’s team synthesizes.

Creating a diagnostic imaging robot has been an ongoing project for Zhang. In 2019, he received a five-year $1,869,423 Director's Early Independence Award from the NIH to support his work to create a robotic system that will detect and analyze three different indicators of prostate cancer: a 3D image of any mass; high levels of a protein produced by cancer cells; and tissue with low-oxygen levels caused by cancer growth.

Zhang said the two grants synergize to enable him to advance his research into exploring the detection of aggressive prostate cancer using photoacoustic imaging, which uses the delivery of light energy to examine tissue to improve ultrasound imagery.