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  • Nanobiotech Institute Draws From Diverse Team
May 2006
BALTIMORE, Md., May 22, 2006 -- The Institute for NanoBioTechnology launched last week at Johns Hopkins University will strive for major advances in medicine by drawing on the expertise of more than 75 faculty members from such diverse disciplines as engineering, biology, medicine and public health.

The institute will develop diagnostic tools and treatments based on interdisciplinary research conducted at the atomic or molecular levels and will encourage the transfer of its innovations into the private sector for further development and marketing, the university said in a statement.

Peter Searson, director of the institute and a professor of materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins, said, "We plan to do this in a way that integrates research, education and technology transfer."

The institute is being launched with $6 million in funding and the participation of dozens of Johns Hopkins faculty members from the Whiting School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. It will make use of existing laboratory space on the university's Homewood and medical campuses in Baltimore. Its startup funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, NASA and various Johns Hopkins divisions. Additional financial support is being sought. US Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., helped secure some of the startup funding and has expressed strong support for the institute, Searson said.

Institute members will also train the next generation of scientists and engineers -- with both graduate-level instruction and a new undergraduate minor in nanobiotechnology.

The institute's four key research areas are:

  • Diagnostics -- including the development of molecular imaging probes that can relay information about the health of a patient's organs and other tissues without the need for a biopsy. Advances in this area promise to greatly enhance the way diseases are diagnosed and treated, Johns Hopkins said.
  • Therapeutics -- including nanoscale forms of drug delivery, gene therapy, protein therapy and immunotherapy. These will be used to treat diseases such as cancer and asthma and conditions such as spinal cord injuries.
  • Cellular and molecular dynamics -- including the use of powerful new tools to study the inner working of cells. This knowledge should help identify causes of disease and new molecular targets that could help cure medical disorders.
  • Health and environment -- a research area that will use the new tools and techniques of nanobiotechnology in understanding the potential impact of nanotechnology on public health and the environment.
The university said the institute's greatest strength will be its ability to tackle complex medical problems by drawing on Johns Hopkins experts with widely different skills: "For example, the university said, a new therapy for cystic fibrosis might begin with tiny polymer particles developed by chemistry experts, carrying medications developed by biologists. These researchers may collaborate with fluid mechanics experts to find the most effective way to get these particles into the lungs. Surface scientists, toxicologists and other medical experts would assist in getting these particles through the lungs' mucus barrier and into the appropriate cells without endangering the patient.

Searson said, "We envision this institute providing research coordination, seed funding and lab facilities for projects like these."

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