Young, global entrepreneur to speak Dec. 12

The Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID) hosts a guest speaker on  Wednesday, December 12, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Clark Hall 110 at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus.

Jodie Wu, founder/CEO, Global Cycle Solutions

Jodie Wu, founder and CEO of Global Cycle Solutions, will present: “Engineer to Entrepreneur: Starting a business in Africa at Age 22,: in which she will discuss the journey of Global Cycle Solutions, its history, its vision, its operations, and how it became what it is today.

In 2009, Wu at age 22, officially became a full-fledged entrepreneur, packing her bags and moving to Tanzania. Wu will talk about her journey from engineer to entrepreneur and give the insider story of taking her company Global Cycle Solutions, from the classroom to the field.

In addition, Wu will share her fantastic “failures”, the challenges of selling products to the world’s bottom billion, and her vision for the future now that her company has sold over 13,000 products across East Africa and is now operationally break even.

This talk is free and open to the Johns Hopkins community.

 

Molecular culprit linked to breast cancer spread

Johns Hopkins researchers have uncovered a protein “partner” commonly used by breast cancer cells to unlock genes needed for spreading the disease around the body. A report on the discovery, published Nov. 5 on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details how some tumors get the tools they need to metastasize.

“We’ve identified a protein that wasn’t known before to be involved in breast cancer progression,” says Gregg Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Vascular Program at the university’s Institute for Cell Engineering. “The protein JMJD2C is the key that opens up a whole suite of genes needed for tumors to grow and metastasize, so it represents a potential target for cancer drug development.” Semenza also is associate director of the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center.

Semenza and his colleagues made their finding when they traced the activity of HIF-1, a protein known to switch on hundreds of genes involved in development, red blood cell production, and metabolism in normal cells. Previous studies had shown that HIF-1 could also be hijacked to switch on genes needed to make breast tumors more malignant.

Would-be tumor cells face a host of challenges as they make the transition from working with their host to working against it, such as the need to evade the immune system and to produce more cancer cells, explains Weibo Luo, Ph.D., an instructor in the Institute for Cell Engineering and Department of Biological Chemistry who led the project. All of these efforts require switching on the right genes for the job.

To learn more about how HIF-1 works, the researchers tested a range of human proteins to see whether they would interact with HIF-1. They then sifted through the 200 resulting hits, looking for proteins involved in chemical changes to sections of DNA that determine whether or not the genes they contain are available for use. “In order for HIF-1 to switch genes on, they have to be available, but many of the genes HIF-1 activates are normally locked down in mature cells,” explains Luo. “So we thought HIF-1 must have a partner that can do the unlocking.”

That partner turned out to be JMJD2C, Luo says. Delving deeper, the researchers found that HIF-1 switches on the JMJD2C gene, stimulating production of the protein. HIF-1’s presence also enables JMJD2C to bind to DNA at other HIF-1 target genes, and then loosen those DNA sections, enabling more HIF-1 to bind to the same sites and activate the target genes.

To test the implications of their discovery, the research team injected mice with breast cancer cells in which the JMJD2C protein was not produced. Tumors with depleted JMJD2C were much less likely to grow and metastasize to the lungs, confirming the protein’s role in breast cancer progression, says Luo.

“Active HIF proteins have been found in many types of tumors, so the implications of this finding go beyond breast cancer,” says Luo. “JMJD2C is both an important piece of the puzzle of how tumors metastasize, and a potential target for anti-cancer therapy.”

Other authors of the research report are Ryan Chang, Jun Zhong, Ph.D., and Akhilesh Pandey, M.D., Ph.D., all of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This work was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (contracts N01-HV28180 and HHS-N268201000032C), and by funds from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering.

On the Web:

Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center: http://psoc.inbt.jhu.edu/

Link to article: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/10/31/1217394109.abstract

Semenza lab: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/institute_cell_engineering/experts/gregg_semenza.html

Q&A with Semenza: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/institute_cell_engineering/experts/meet_scientists/gregg_semenza.html

Original press release by Shawna WilliamsCatherine Kolf and Vanessa McMains

 

 

RNA nanotechnology and therapeutics conference registration opens

Mark your calendar. Those affiliated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology or Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence may be interested to know that online registration is now open for the 2013 International Conference of RNA Nanotechnology and Therapeutics to be held in Lexington, KY on April 3-5, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Resorts.  The meeting is organized by Peixuan Guo (University of Kentucky CNPP), John Rossi (Beckman Research Institute), Bruce Shapiro (NCI), and Neocles Leontis (Bowling Green State University). Along with invited speakers, there will also be a poster session. Invited speakers are yet to be announced.

Program topics include:

  •  Biophysical and Single Molecule Approaches in RNA Nanotechnology
  • RNA Structure and Folding in Nanoparticles
  • RNA Computation and Modeling
  • RNA Nanoparticle Assembly
  • RNA Nanoparticles in Therapeutics
  • RNA Chemistry for Synthesis, Conjugation, & Labeling of Nanoparticles
  • RNA Systems Biology and Engineering
  • Exosomes and Extracellular RNA Communication

Additional details and registration information can be found at http://nanobio.uky.edu/RNA2013

 

Breast cancer patient advocates offer insight

Researchers are tapping into the first-hand knowledge of survivors of breast cancer through the cancer patient advocate program at Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (PS-OC).

“Breast cancer patients can provide valuable insight into the impact of therapies,” said Abigail Hielscher, a chemical and biomolecular engineering postdoctoral fellow in the Sharon Gerecht laboratory. Hielscher is helping to organize an effort to locate breast cancer survivors and patients, as well as those who work closely with them such as oncology nurses, to inform the efforts of researchers developing cancer diagnosis and treatments.

In addition to acting as a liaison between the population of breast cancer survivors and patients and the community of Johns Hopkins PS-OC scientists performing breast cancer-related research, patient advocates also are charged with telling the public and funding agencies about the latest breast cancer research being performed in PS-OC labs.

Likewise, researchers must communicate their findings via laboratory demonstrations and brief, non-technical talks to the breast cancer advocates.

“Survivors can facilitate communication between those directly affected by the disease and those working to treat or cure it,” Hielscher said. “The advocates, both patients and nurses, allow researchers to better understand and implement the needs of breast cancer patients in terms of new therapies and treatment strategies.”

Cancer patient advocates meet periodically with Johns Hopkins PS-OC researchers. Currently, PS-OC patient advocates are Mary Capano, MSN, RN, CBPN-IC and Nancy Cardwell.

If you or someone you know is a breast cancer survivor who would like to learn about the volunteer opportunity as a patient advocate contact Abigail Hielscher at ahielsc1@jhu.edu or via phone: 402-889-0283.

 

Cancer data stored in the cloud could improve treatments

These days, storing photos or music remotely in “the cloud”  has become common place. Now Johns Hopkins researchers are applying the concept to the storage of medical data in the hopes of predicting and improving cancer patient treatments and outcomes.

Images courtesy Denis Wirtz/JHU

“The long-range goal is to make these data available through the Internet to physicians who are diagnosing and treating cancer patients around the world,” said Denis Wirtz , associate director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Using a $3.75 million grant over five years from the National Cancer Institute Common Fund Single Cell Analysis Program, Wirtz launched the program in October, with two colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Anirban Maitra and Ralph Hruban.

Initially the database will focus on information from pancreatic cancer patient cell lines but will expand to other types of cancer, including ovarian.  Data gathered and stored will be at the single cell level, which Wirtz explains, provides better information for predicting how individual patients may respond to certain drugs. Drugs that work well for one patient may do nothing at all, or even be harmful, for another, Wirtz said. Understanding and predicting these outcomes before treatment is a step toward more personalized medicine, he added.

To read more about “cloud pathology,” go to the press release issued by John Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center

 

Speakers confirmed for Oct. 24 INBT student symposium

Student-run symposiums are held in the fall and early spring.

Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence and Physical Science-Oncology Center are hosting a mini-symposium highlighting current research in these entities on Wednesday, October 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Clipper Room of Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. In addition to student presenters, the symposium features a faculty expert speaker and invited guest lectures from the National Institutes of Health program managers for both the CCNEs and the PS-OCs.

Confirmed speakers include:
  • 10:00 am – 10:20 am Zachary Gagnon, assistant prof. of chemical and biomolecular engineering: “Nonlinear electrokinetics at microfluidic liquid/liquid interfaces
  • 10:20 am – 10:40 am Laura Ensign: Mucus-penetrating particles for vaginal drug delivery (CCNE)
  • 10:40 am – 11:00 am Wei-Chien Hung: alpha4-tail-mediated Rac1 and RhoA-myosin II in optimizing 2D versus confined migration (PS-OC)
  • 11:00 am – 11:20 am Iwen Wu: An adipose-derived biomaterial for soft tissue reconstruction (INBT)
  • 11:20 am – 11:50 pm Sean Hanlon: NCI Physical Science–Oncology Centers (PS-OC) Program, bringing a new perspective to cancer research
  • 11:50 am – 1:00 pm Break/Lunch
  • 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm David Weitz: Drop-based microfluidics: Biology one picoliter at a time (INBT)
  • 1:30 pm -2:00 pm Sara S. Hook, projects manager for the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer program within the Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives (CSSI) at the National Cancer Institute
  • 2:00 pm – 2:20 pm Break
  • 2:20 pm – 2:40 pm Phrabha Raman: A microfluidic device to measure traction forces during confined cancer cell migration towards chemoattractant (PS-OC)
  • 2:40 pm – 3:00 pm Allison Chambliss: Single-cell epigenetics to retain cell morphology (PS-OC)
  • 3:00 pm – 3:20 pm Sravanti Kusuma: Tissue engineering approaches to study blood vessel growth (PS-OC)
  • 3:20 pm – 3:40 pm Benjamin Lin: Using synthetic spatial signaling perturbations to probe directed cell migration (INBT)
  • 3:40 pm – 4:00 pm Stephany Tzeng: Cancer-specific gene delivery to liver cell cultures using synthetic poly(beta-amino esters) (INBT)
  • 4:00 – 4:15 pm Brian Keeley: An epigenetic approach to assessing specificity and sensitivity of DNA methylation (CCNE)

The symposium talks are free and open to the Hopkins community as space allows.

 

 

DNA folded into shapes offers alternative gene delivery vehicle

DNA molecules (light green) packaged into nanoparticles of different shapes using a polymer with two different segments. Cartoon illustrations created by Wei Qu, Northwestern University and Martin Rietveld, Johns Hopkins /INBT. Microscopic images created by Xuan Jiang, Johns Hopkins University.

Using snippets of DNA as building blocks to create nanoscale rods, worms and spheres, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Northwestern universities have devised a means of delivering gene therapy that avoids some of the undesirable aspects of using viruses to deliver genes to treat disease. The shape and size of the DNA-based nanoparticle also affected how well the genes were delivered.

Worm shapes, for example, were particularly effective.

“The worm-shaped particles resulted in 1,600 times more gene expression in the liver cells than the other shapes,” said Hai-Quan Mao, an associate professor ofmaterials science and engineering in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering. “This means that producing nanoparticles in this particular shape could be the more efficient way to deliver gene therapy to these cells.”

This study was published in the Oct. 12 online edition of Advanced Materials.

Initial funding for the research came from a seed grant provided by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, of which Mao is an affiliate. The Johns Hopkins-Northwestern partnership research was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.

Read the entire Johns Hopkins press release by Phil Sneiderman (JHU) and Megan Fellman (Northwestern) here.

 

 

Siebel scholars demonstrate INBT’s multidisciplinary advantage

Siebel scholar Laura Ensign. Photo by Marty Katz.

Four of the five recently named Johns Hopkins University graduate students who were listed among the 2013 Siebel Scholars are affiliated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology laboratories. Three of the four were also part of INBT’s Nanobio IGERT, or Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship, a National Science Foundation funded program. The Siebel Scholars program recognizes the most talented students at the world’s leading graduate schools of business, bioengineering, and computer science.

INBT affiliated winners include Laura Ensign, Mustapha Jamal, Garrett Jenkinson and Yi Zhang. Ensign, Jamal and Jenkinson were INBT IGERT fellows. All note that their involvement with INBT to one degree or another has played a role in their academic success at Hopkins.

Laura Ensign, in the Department of Chemical and BioMolecular Engineering, works in the laboratory of Justin Hanes, who is director of the Center for Nanomedicine and investigator with the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE). Ensign’s research involves understanding the mucus barrier in the female reproductive tract and how it protects and also inhibits the delivery of drugs to this part of the body. Using specially engineered mucus penetrating nanoparticles designed in the Hanes labs, she is working on more effective drug delivery systems. Ensign is listed as an inventor on three patents that have been licensed to private industry.

“As an engineer, the multidisciplinary nature of INBT has allowed me to do research that has the potential to help patients in the clinic,” Ensign said. Furthermore, Ensign noted that having two advisors, a requirement for INBT’s IGERT program, played an important role in her graduate work and discoveries. In addition to being advised by Hanes, Ensign also was mentored by Richard Cone, professor in the Department of Biophysics in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “The trajectory of my research has been greatly influenced by having two advisers with different backgrounds. My research has included engineering and formulation aspects, as well as biological and translational aspects, resulting in higher impact results with broader implications. “

Siebel scholar Mustapha Jamal

Mustapha Jamal, also in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, worked in the laboratory of associate professor David Gracias. Jamal has developed self-assembling structures that provide a framework for 3D tissue culture. In addition, these self-assembling structures let him study how geometry affects cell behavior. Jamal is a co-inventor on a patent application in connection with this research.

“Working in a multidiscplinary lab has helped me engineer miniaturized 3D cell culture platforms utilizing techniques from seemingly disparate research areas: semiconductor processing and tissue engineering,” Jamal said. “With a bit of creativity, this diverse skill set has proven useful in forging exciting and fruitful collaborations and should serve me well for years to come. From the annual INBT Symposium to the courses and workshops, I have shared my own research with the community and engaged in academic discussions that have helped me keep on top of research conducted here at Hopkins and abroad.”

Siebel scholar Garrett Jenkinson learning wet lab skills during INBT’s nanobio bootcamp. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Mathematics is the tool that W. Garrett Jenkinson uses in his research in the Complex Systems Science Laboratory of John Goutsias, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Jenkinson’s work can be applied to such real-life problems as how infections spread through a population via social interaction or how processes occur inside the cell, both of which can help inform the development of drugs to fight disease.

“The Complex Systems Science Laboratory takes the INBT spirit of interdisciplinary research to heart. The lab focuses on rigorous mathematical formulations that will simultaneously advance as many branches of science and engineering as possible,” Jenkinson said. “My graduate work has allowed me to follow my mathematical interests toward whatever application they might lead. In my tenure at Hopkins, I have published papers on a diverse array of topics including biochemical reaction networks, epidemiology, neurobiology, ecology, thermodynamics, unmanned automated vehicles, evolutionary game theory, pharmacokinetics, and social networks.

Through the IGERT program, Jenkinson said, INBT “trained me in fields that an electrical and computer engineer might otherwise find foreign, such as biology, nanotechnology, and wet lab techniques. Furthermore, the INBT has fostered relationships with my peers from diverse scientific backgrounds, with whom I have collaborated on multiple occasions to lend or receive advice in scientific matters that required expertise in multiple fields. I am excited to be joining the Siebel Scholars program which facilitates relationships across universities in the same way the INBT fosters these relationships across departments at Johns Hopkins University.”

Siebel scholar Yi Zhang. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Yi Zhang conducts his research in the lab of Jeff Tza-Huei Wang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and oncology and also a project leader in the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. Zhang’s work developing micro- and nanoscale molecular techniques to help diagnose cancer and infectious diseases has supported one of the core research goals of the CCNE. He is listed as an inventor on four patent applications, one of which has been licensed by a biotechnology company.

Said Zhang, “Being associated with an INBT affiliated laboratory offers me ample opportunities to collaborate with researchers in various fields and get help from my fellow students. Biomedical engineering is multidisciplinary in nature. My research focuses on bridging the gap between medical science and engineering, and my thesis is committed to improving molecular diagnostics using advanced nanotechnology. An integrated center like CCNE presents a new research paradigm by bringing together all necessary expertise from various fields to tackle one big problem in an extremely efficient way. It has definitely changed my view of conducting translational research.”

According to the organization’s website, Siebel Scholars and are chosen by the dean of their respective schools on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and demonstrated leadership. On average, Siebel Scholars rank in the top 5 percent of their class, many within the top 1 percent. The merit-based program provides $35,000 to each student for use in his or her final year of graduate studies.

The Siebel Scholars program was established in 2000 by the Siebel Foundation through a grant of more than $45 million to Carnegie Mellon University; Harvard University; The Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Stanford University; Tsinghua University; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, San Diego; University of Chicago; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and University of Pennsylvania. Each year, five graduate students from each of the 17 partner institutions are honored as Siebel Scholars and receive a $35,000 award for their final year of studies.

Established in 2006, the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins brings together 223 researchers from every division of the University to create new knowledge and new technologies at the interface of nanoscience and medicine.

 

Konstantopoulos named BMES fellow

Konstantinos Konstantopoulos (Photo by Mary Spiro)

Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering has been named a Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Konstantopoulos was one of only nine fellows elected to the Society’s Class of 2012.

BMES states that Konstantopoulos received this honor in recognition of his “seminal bioengineering research contributions involving the discovery and characterization of novel selectin ligands expressed by metastatic tumor cells.”  Formal installation of fellows will take place at the BMES annual meeting  October 24-27 in Atlanta.

Konstantopoulos is an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He is also a project leader with the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center. Together with Martin Pomper, a School of Medicine professor of radiology and co-principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, Konstantopoulos is researching mechanochemical effects on metastasis.

Specifically, his work investigates the effects of fluid mechanical forces at different oxygen tension microenvironments on tumor cell signaling, adhesion and migration. Fluid flow in and around tumor tissue modulates the mechanical microenvironment, including the forces acting on the cell surface and the tethering force on cell-substrate connections. Cells in the interior of a tumor mass experience a lower oxygen tension microenvironment and lower fluid velocities than those at the edges in proximity with a functional blood vessel, and are prompted to produce different biochemical signals. These differential responses affect tumor cell fate that is, whether a cell will live or die, and whether it will be able to detach and migrate to secondary sites in the body.

According to the BMES website, members who demonstrate exceptional achievements and experience in the field of biomedical engineering, as well as a record of membership and participation in the Society, have the opportunity to become fellows. Fellows are selected and conferred  by the BMES board of directors through a highly selective process. Nominations for each of these categories may be made by Society members and the board of directors.

Learn more about research in the Konstantopoulos Lab here.

 

 

Coated nanoparticles move easily into brain tissue

Real-time imaging of nanoparticles green) coated with polyethylene-glycol (PEG), a hydrophilic, non-toxic polymer, penetrate within normal rodent brain. Without the PEG coating, negatively charged, hydrophobic particles (red) of a similar size do not penetrate. Image by Elizabeth Nance, Kurt Sailor, Graeme Woodworth.

Johns Hopkins researchers report they are one step closer to having a drug-delivery system flexible enough to overcome some key challenges posed by brain cancer and perhaps other maladies affecting that organ. In a report published online Aug. 29 in Science Translational Medicine, the Johns Hopkins team says its bioengineers have designed nanoparticles that can safely and predictably infiltrate deep into the brain when tested in rodent and human tissue.

“We are pleased to have found a way to prevent drug-embedded particles from sticking to their surroundings so that they can spread once they are in the brain,” said Justin Hanes, Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology and project leader in the Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

Standard protocols following the removal of brain tumors include chemotherapy directly applied to the surgical site to kill any cancer cells left behind. This method, however, is only partially effective because it is hard to administer a dose of chemotherapy high enough to sufficiently penetrate the tissue to be effective and low enough to be safe for the patient and healthy tissue. Furthermore, previous versions of drug-loaded nanoparticles typically adhere to the surgical site and do not penetrate into the tissue.

These newly engineered nanoparticles overcome this challenge. Elizabeth Nance, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Graeme Woodworth, suspected that drug penetration might be improved if drug-delivery nanoparticles interacted minimally with their surroundings. Nance achieved this by coating nano-scale beads with a dense layer of PEG or poly(ethylene glycol). The team then injected the coated beads, which had been marked with a fluorescent tag,  into slices of rodent and human brain tissue. They found that a dense coating of PEG allowed larger beads to penetrate the tissue, even those beads that were nearly twice the size previously thought to be the maximum possible for penetration within the brain. They then tested these beads in live rodent brains and found the same results.

Elizabeth Nance. Photo by Ming Yang.

The results were similar when biodegradable nanoparticles carrying the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel and coated with PEG were used. “It’s really exciting that we now have particles that can carry five times more drug, release it for three times as long and penetrate farther into the brain than before,” said Nance. “The next step is to see if we can slow tumor growth or recurrence in rodents.”

Woodworth added that the team “also wants to optimize the particles and pair them with drugs to treat other brain diseases, like multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” Another goal for the team is to be able to administer their nanoparticles intravenously, which is research they have already begun.

Additional authors on the paper include Kurt Sailor, Ting-Yu Shih, Qingguo Xu, Ganesh Swaminathan, Dennis Xiang, and Charles Eberhart, all from The Johns Hopkins University.

Story adapted from an original press release by Cathy Kolf.

 

Additional news coverage of this research can be found at the following links:

Nanotechnology/Bio & Medicine

Death and Taxes Mag

New Scientist Health

Nanotech Web

Portugese news release (in Portugese)

German Public Radio (in German)