August 31, 2017

DR. ANDREW EKPENYONG: THE LABORATORY PRIEST

By Anthony Udoh

​Dr. Andrew Ekpenyong is an Assistant Professor of Physics in Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the US. It’s a Jesuit owned university. Fr Andrew joined the faculty in 2014. He teaches Quantum Mechanics, Radiation Dosimetry, Nuclear Instruments and Methods as well as General Physics. His research is in the field of biomedical physics with a translational focus . For instance, he has developed microfluidic mimetics enabling in vitro modelling of the human pulmonary microcirculation with potential impact on the clinical management of lung diseases, inflammatory disorders and cancer metastasis. A Creighton alumnus, Fr Andrew earned his PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK, and did postdoctoral work at Technische Universität, Dresden, Germany.

His Academic qualifications are:

PhD in physics; University of Cambridge, UK, 2012.

MS in physics; Creighton University, USA, 2007.

BD in Theology; Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Italy, 2003.

BA in Philosophy (focus: Philosophy of Science), University of Uyo, Nigeria, 1998

BPhil in Philosophy; Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Italy, 1998.

He is also a certified and Full Member of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM).

He earned First Class degrees in his B. Phil., B. A., and B. D. examinations.

His Research and Scholarship Interests:

He has observed that almost all the vital signs are biophysical properties: blood pressure, pulse rate, body temperature, etc. Therefore, with collaborators from the Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, the School of Medicine, Creighton University, as well as international collaborators in the UK and Germany, he has developed and used novel biophysical tools to discover new biomarkers that provide diagnostic information and new therapeutic options. He has addressed the physician’s wish list in order to improve disease diagnosis, patient monitoring, drug development and testing, etc. While these efforts seek to improve biomedicine using principles and tools of physics, his aim is also to advance the physics of complex systems such as living matter. In particular, he seeks to understand how biological cells function as mechanical units, with material properties.

Talk by Andrew

His Current Research Projects:

  1. The Physics of Cancer: role of cell mechanics in metastasis. 2. Impact of radiotherapy on cell mechanical properties.

  2. Cellular response to gravity and microgravity.

  3. Impact of chemotherapy on cell mechanical properties.

  4. In vitro modelling of microcirculation for clinical studies involving COPD, sepsis, ARDS, ALI and Sickle Cell Anaemia.

He has published a good number of articles in magazines, and especially in his University’s journal and other international and peer reviewed journals on medical physics and related fields.

A major discovery about a set of immune cells, published in the journal Science Advances, started with a Creighton University physics professor going a little farther on an experiment than was initially planned.

“First author on the paper, the Rev. Andrew Ekpenyong, MS’08, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, was a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in 2011, working with a team of medical doctors and scientists studying the stiffness of cells when he noticed something strange about a certain type of immune cell — the neutrophil. The more Ekpenyong pulled the cell with an optical stretcher — a special kind of dual-beam laser invented by Jochen Guck, PhD, a co-senior author on the paper — the smoother and more rounded the cell became.

Neutrophils, a special kind of white blood cell, are the human body’s version of the Wild West desperado, shooting first and asking questions later, when foreign objects enter the body. Through cell signaling, neutrophils are first on the scene in such instances, going from a round, smooth and quiet cell to a rough-edged, activated one in an instant. It can take a neutrophil up to an hour to regain its quietude, but as Ekpenyong noticed, manipulation with the optical stretcher can speed the process of depolarization down to about one minute.

“It was just one of those cases where you start out to do one thing and take just one or two steps further for a bit of fun or further insight, and you have something else,” said Ekpenyong, who earned a master’s degree in physics from Creighton and joined the faculty in 2014 after post-doctoral work at Technical University of Dresden in Germany with Guck. “One of the lead researchers I was working with saw the video I had taken, jumped from his chair, left the room and beckoned his medical colleague to take a look.”

That researcher is Edwin Chilvers, PhD, a professor of respiratory medicine in Cambridge’s Department of Medicine. For Chilvers, another co-senior author on the paper, the discovery has implications across a broad spectrum of maladies, most notably acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute lung injury (ALI).

In those cases, activated neutrophils have become stuck in the lungs’ tiny capillaries, leading to a host of life-threatening problems. Scientists have been searching for a chemical means of calming the cells, but to no avail. Ekpenyong’s physics-based approach has led to his development of a microfluidic device that mimics the body’s microvascular system by squeezing and stretching the neutrophils into their tranquil state, after they are activated.

The challenge now, Ekpenyong said, will be to find a way to translate this discovery into a clinical application, something at which Cambridge and Dresden researchers are already hard at work.”

Journal Reference:

Andrew E. Ekpenyong et al. Mechanical deformation induces depolarization of neutrophils. Science Advances, June 2017

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170614160543.htm

His Publications and Presentations include:

Ekpenyong AE (2007) Basics of Physics for Senior Secondary Schools 3 Vols, Spectrum Books, Ibadan, Nigeria., Spectrum Press, 3, 777, 2007.

Ekpenyong AE (2005) On the Many Faces of AIDS: Biblical, Medical, and Moral Perspectives on HIV/AIDS. Temavic, Calabar, Nigeria., Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice, 2005.

He has made academic presentations at conferences in the US, Germany, Italy and the UK!

At a personal level, he loves sports, especially soccer, and also plays the organ!

I know he also spends time in the laboratory in his leisure time and in the chapel!

In fact, I remember once he joked with me that his daily routine consists in “moving from the oratory to the laboratory and back as many times as he was able in a day”.

Physics professor
Dr. Andrew Ekpenyong

FR Andrew has been working towards building model Research Laboratories across sub-Saharan Africa, through a non-profit, non-governmental organization he co-founded ‘the Science and Technology Network for Human Advancement’, SATNHA. He told me once: “For me, the rest of my life is an opportunity to give back”. And he’s doing exactly this!

( All photos are from physicsweb.creighton.edu/dr_andrew_ekpenyong)

He is presently coordinating efforts to build three state-of-the-arts Hospital and Research Centres in Uyo, Ogoja and Calabar Dioceses. They are called JOSEPH UKPO HOSPITAL AND RESEARCH INSTITUTE (JUHRI)!

This is as a tribute to Archbishop Ukpo who graciously gave him the rare and unusual opportunity to study physics, his lifelong dream and desire!

The unit in Uyo is in Ibiono Ibom and is at about 35% completion. It’s a huge project and it’ll entail a lot of resources!

MOST OF THE INFO HERE HAVE BEEN DERIVED FROM HIS CV HE SENT TO THE AUTHOR (ANTHONY UDOH, a graduate of Philosophy and Theology from the University of Uyo, Nigeria and Urbannia, Rome, respectively) SOMETIME AGO AND HIS PERSONAL CHATS AND CORRESPONDENCE WITH HIM, BEGINNING IN NOV. 2014. SOME COULD ALSO BE ACCESSED FROM THE UNIVERSITY WEBSITE: www.creighton.edu

From the Publisher:

Once again in the sands of time, we have, revealed to us the capacities and abilities of the human mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Priest, a Nun, an atheist, a Muslim or belong to a minority. While the majority of African Pastors travel between frail fame, ‘congregational expansion’ and theatrical displays, the stories of pastors like Dr. Andrew Ekpenyong, and even Dr. Edward Obi, MSP, are even more relevant in 21st century Africa and in Nigeria,  the birth place of this laboratory priest.

My name is David Francis and the nature of my engagements include:

Philosophy (University of Jos, Nigeria); Research Consultant (St. Albert’s Institute, Fayit-Fadan, Kaduna, Nigeria); Editor (Sapientia African Leadership Formation Programme, e. V Address: Badenstedter Street, 99 30453, Hannover, Germany); Editor (African Home Reintegration, Spinnereistrasse 1A 30449, Hannover, Germany); Literature (S. E. M. S. Nassarawa State, Nigeria); Former Associate Editor, “Periscope Magazine,” Abuja and Columnist, “Seekers Delight Magazine,” Kaduna.

I simply try to question the ‘happy darkness’ by encouraging more hands to minimize ignorance. Just a dose of knowledge, is enough in training the mind, to conform to nothing except truth. Let’s ride this train together!

Send a message, or for inquiries to  francisaquaticus2@gmail.com

Submit your work (researches, stories, articles, etc)  here.

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