NSF Awards $199,266 to Aswin Gnanaskandan for Research That Could Help Expand Use of Ultrasound Therapy for Cancer


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Aswin Gnanaskandan

Aswin Gnanaskandan

Aswin Gnanaskandan, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, has been awarded a $199,266 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand understanding of how tiny gas bubbles can assist ultrasound ablation therapy in the treatment of cancer without harming healthy tissues.

Gnanaskandan’s two-year project will address a critical problem with high intensity–focused ultrasound therapy, which uses acoustic waves to heat and kill diseased tissue: A beam of high-frequency sound aimed at the body can safely target a tumor just beneath the skin, but increasing the power of an ultrasound beam to reach tumors deeper in the body raises the risk of injuring healthy tissue in the beam’s path.

Using ultrasound contrast agents—gas bubbles encased in lipid membranes and injected into the body—makes it possible to treat deeper tumors without the need to increase the ultrasound power. However, much remains unknown about the relative roles of contrast agents and ultrasound in thermal ablation.

Working with a computational model he recently developed, Gnanaskandan will elucidate how contrast agents can be used to modify the acoustic waves used in ultrasound therapy. He will determine how microbubbles enhance the conversion of sound to heat, examine the impact of ultrasound therapy on tissue near a target, and determine the optimal combination of ultrasound and microbubbles needed to heat a target.

“High intensity–focused ultrasound thermal ablation is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of prostate cancer, in which cancer cells live just beneath the surface of the skin,” Gnanaskandan said. “This project will answer fundamental questions about how microbubbles could be used to develop ultrasound treatments that safely target a wider range of tumors that are deeper in the body.”

As part of his project, Gnanaskandan will use results from his research in educational animations aimed at increasing understanding of ultrasound and microbubbles in medicine. He also will continue work on a new graduate-level course in multiphase transport phenomenon.

Aswin Gnanaskandan
Aswin Gnanaskandan


Prof. Aswin Gnanaskandan joined the WPI faculty in August 2020 as an assistant professor. His research experience prior to WPI includes a Postdoctoral Researcher position at California Institute of Technology, USA, a Research Scientist position at Dynaflow Inc, USA, and a Scientist position at the Defense Research and Development Laboratory, India. 

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