Radiation is widely used in medical and industrial environments and is a major concern for workers because exposure to high-energy radiation can severely damage body cells. Current methods to detect radioactive damage are time consuming and costly.

To improve detection rates, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are interested in developing rapid and high throughput approaches related to the screening process. Xiaofei Wang, Ph.D. contributed to this development effort while participating in ORNL’s summer research program for faculty of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Educational Institutions.

Wang, a professor in the Biological Sciences Department at Tennessee State University, had visited ORNL previously for a tour. Over the summer, he returned to collaborate with staff and broaden his own research knowledge.

Alongside Sandra Davern, Ph.D., Wang researched methods for rapid and high throughput assessment of radiation exposure. The speed of detection is important in situations of accidental exposure and drug screening.

ORNL Faculty Research Profile: Xiaofei Wang

In the HBCU/MEI Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, faculty member Xiaofei Wang, Ph.D., researched methods to improve detection of radiation damage to cells. He hopes to share his knowledge with his students and peers at Tennessee State University.

“Current methods involve using microscopy to count foci, which represent double-strand DNA breaks. This is time consuming and not suitable for high throughput screening,” Wang said. “The method being developed will increase the throughput of screening for drugs that can mitigate radiation damage.”

The team studied both cancerous and normal cells from lungs. However, the methods can be applied to cells throughout the body.

A typical day for Wang involved maintaining and assessing primary and immortalized cell lines, exposing cells to chemicals and γ-radiation, and detecting double-strand DNA breakage using a plate reader or microscope. He interacted regularly with his mentor, sponsors, other staff and interns.

The experience not only allowed Wang to diversify his own research portfolio, but he also established meaningful connections with staff researchers at ORNL. In fact, Wang invited Dr. Davern to present a seminar at his home institution. The pair hopes to continue the collaborative efforts between the lab and the university beyond the program.

The HBCU/MEI program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.