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New Researcher Energized by Studies of Bioelectric Interactions

In his research as part of the small worldwide fraternity of bioelectric engineers - researchers who study the interaction between electric fields and living cells - Tom Vernier has had some success.

A potential skin cancer therapy that Vernier helped develop while working with the Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering in Los Angeles has reached the stage of clinical trials.

But Vernier, who joined Old Dominion University's Frank Reidy Center for Bioelectrics earlier this year as a research professor, is just as interested in the fundamental principles of biophysics that underpin these potential breakthroughs in the emerging field.

"As more of a fundamentals guy, I think it's important to not just know a procedure works, but to understand it, so that we can make it better," Vernier said.

"In order for us to address some of the things that concern people about the effects of electric and magnetic fields on living things, we need to get down to the fundamental physics."

Vernier brings two research thrusts to the Reidy Center from his previous position at the University of Southern California. He is an experimentalist in bioelectric processes - the interaction of living cells with electric fields, particularly very high-voltage, extremely short-in-duration pulses.

Vernier also does molecular modeling of predicted bioelectric interactions, down to the atomic level. "You have a model, then go and verify with experiments, which leads to improvements in the model. In bioelectrics, this is only beginning to happen," he said. "We haven't learned enough yet about these interactions, and our models are very simple. But it's important to get out of the era of empirical exploration and into systematic research based on molecular mechanisms."

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Published on: July 1, 2013