The war on cancer is fought on many fronts, even tiny, nanoscale ones. To train new scientists and engineers to combat the spread of cancer, Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) has established a pre-doctoral (PhD) training program in Nanotechnology for Cancer Medicine. Together with the institute’s previously established Nanotechnology for Cancer Medicine postdoctoral fellowship, these two training programs will comprise the Johns Hopkins Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center (CNTC).
Similar to the postdoctoral program, the PhD training in nanotechnology for cancer medicine will educate graduate students to use nanotechnology solutions to diagnose, treat, manage, and hopefully one day, even cure cancer, said the CNTC’s director Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus H. Smoot professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering.
The CNTC was funded by a $1.8 million grant over five years from the National Cancer Institute. Launched in the fall of 2010, the pre-doctoral training program has already attracted highly qualified students with bachelor’s degrees in diverse backgrounds such as biochemistry, genetics, molecular and cellular biology, as well as those who majored in engineering or physics. By attracting students with these sorts of educational backgrounds, Wirtz said, INBT will help develop what he calls “hybrid scientists, engineers, and clinicians.”
“We are seeking to train people who can develop new nanoscale materials and nanoparticles that will address biological functions related to the growth and spread of cancer, or metastasis, at a mechanistic level,” said Wirtz, who also directs INBT’s Engineering in Oncology Center and is INBT’s associate director.
Anirban Maitra, professor of pathology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-director of the CNTC, said research will focus on the identification and preclinical validation of the most cancer-specific nanotechnology based therapies, particularly using the wealth of knowledge on the cancer genome emerging from CNTC participant scientists such as Kenneth Kinzler and Bert Vogelstein, both School of Medicine faculty.
“The CNTC is uniquely poised to leverage this information for developing molecularly targeted nanotechnology-based tools for cancer therapy,” Maitra added.
Much like INBT’s other training programs, students seeking a doctorate specialization in nanotechnology for cancer medicine must jump through a few additional hoops than those students enrolled in traditional department-based pre-doctoral programs.
For example, in addition to the PhD requirements set forth by students’ home departments, CNTC fellows also complete two core nanotechnology courses, two intensive laboratory “boot camps”, one laboratory course designed to develop their skills in experimental and theoretical fundamentals in surface and materials science for biology and medicine, and one course in advanced cancer biology. Students must also complete two complementary laboratory rotations within their first year, participate in a professional development seminars, attend clinical conferences on cancer, among many other requirements. These extra steps set INBT trainees apart by giving them a more advanced skill set and making graduates more desirable in the job market, Wirtz said.
Generally, fellows take five to six years to complete the cancer nanotechnology for medicine PhD program. INBT will support CNTC trainees for two years, after which, the students will be funded by their primary departments from which their degrees will be conferred.
As many as six outstanding pre-doctoral fellows may enter the CNTC program per year. Candidates from under-represented groups in the science and engineering disciplines, including women and minorities, are encouraged to apply.
For more information about how to apply for the CNTC programs, please contact INBT’s Academic Program Administrator, Ashanti Edwards, at Ashanti@jhu.edu.
Story by Mary Spiro