The ethics of research supply purchasing in the life sciences

When people think about animal use and testing as it applies to research, especially in the life sciences, typically they imagine a scientist in a lab coat, running some experiment on a mouse or a rat. While this scenario is certainly a big part of animal involvement in life sciences research, another big part that often goes unnoticed or under-discussed is animal involvement in production of lab supplies.

http://www.coroflot.com/stevestankiewicz/digital-infographics

http://www.coroflot.com/stevestankiewicz/digital-infographics

For example, although some proteins can be non-invasively isolated or synthetically produced, many still have to be made in an animal and later isolated from them, commonly from serum, but quite possibly from other sources as well. Collagen, for instance, is a fibrous protein that makes up 25 to 35 percent of whole body content, and it can be used in many biological coatings because if its ability to crosslink and the fact that many cell types have a high affinity with collagen. When cultured on collagen, cells are more likely to stick.

In our lab, collagen is commonly used in the production of the microfluidic device that is being developed to mimic the properties of the blood-brain barrier. The collagen that we often purchase and use is rat-tail collagen, that is, collagen that has been isolated from the tendons found in the tails of rats. Other products include cell lines isolated from animals, and serums isolated from their blood.  Fetal bovine serum is also very commonly used in cell culture media, without which, cells would not survive in culture.

Another animal-derived lab product are antibodies. Antibodies are produced in animals by exposing them to a target protein. After the animal’s immune system recognizes the foreign protein, it produces antibodies against it, which can then be isolated and purified. Rabbits, goats, mice, rats, horses, and dogs are specifically bred for the production of antibodies.

Unfortunately not all antibody production facilities are kind to the animals they use. Recently, the USDA investigated Santa Cruz Biotechnology, one of the most prominent suppliers of antibodies for research purposes. SCBT has had 31 animal abuse violations filed against it in the past, but when the USDA sent a team to investigate in January 2016, thousands of rabbits and goats were gone, leading some to suspect that they may have been killed. (See story from Nature here.)

In many labs, antibodies are widely used. Decisions on where to buy antibodies are usually based on price and quality, because some antibodies will have higher affinities to the target proteins in question than the same antibody from another supplier. We don’t always consider ethics and company practices when we make our buying decision, but perhaps we should.

These days, since many alternate suppliers of antibodies exist it stands to reason to bring issues like animal treatment into the equation. This applies not just in the case of antibody purchasing, but in any situation where a supply is purchased for everyday lab use after having been produced by an animal. Unethical behavior that can exist behind the scenes in science and research will force researchers to do their due diligence when considering their sources for laboratory supplies. We do have a choice, and we can exercise it.

About the author: Luisa Russell is a fourth year PhD candidate in the Searson lab and also in the NTCR training program, whose research focuses on developing new strategies for cancer drug delivery using nanoparticles.

Media inquires should be directed to INBT’s science writer Mary Spiro, mspiro@jhu.edu

Posters sought for INBT’s 10th symposium April 29

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology celebrates its tenth anniversary at their annual symposium with the theme of Precision Medicine. Registration is now open for attendees and poster registration. All nanobio related research topics are encouraged to submit poster titles.

2000px-High_accuracy_Low_precision.svgThe symposium will take place at Owens Auditorium (located between CRB I and CRB II at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on Friday, April 29. Talks begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 12:30. A poster session in the auditorium lobby and corridor will occur from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Prizes will be offered for the top poster presenters, and the first 60 posters registrants will be invited to attend a special luncheon at 12:30.

REGISTER NOW

To register to attend or to register a poster title for the symposium, click here. All nanobio related topics and students from all disciplines and departments are invited to participate. The symposium is free and open to the Johns Hopkins University community and select other academic institutions. A registration fee may apply to other attendees. 

NOTE: Posters should be 3′ by 4′ or no larger than 4′ by 4′ in size and should be in place by 1:15 p.m.. Poster presenters will find out where their poster is to be displayed on the day of the symposium.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. While some advances in precision medicine have been made, the practice is not currently in use for most diseases. That’s why on January 20, 2015, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative® (PMI) in his State of the Union address. Through advances in research, technology and policies that empower patients, the PMI will enable a new era of medicine in which researchers, providers and patients work together to develop individualized care.

 

The AGENDA for the day is as follows:

Help INBT celebrate 10 years of fostering and facilitating collaborative multidisciplinary research across all divisions and departments of the University.

Launched in 2006, INBT focuses its efforts in research on the basic biological sciences, the clinical sciences, and public health. In the basic biological sciences, INBT supports research exploiting nanoscience to advance our understanding of cellular and molecular dynamics at the molecular level. In the clinical sciences, INBT supports research to develop novel methods for diagnostics and therapeutics. In public health, INBT supports research to understand the potential impact of nanoscience and nanotechnology on health and the environment, as well as on using nanoscience to solve environmental problems.

Direct media inquiries to Mary Spiro at mspiro@jhu.edu.

Professional development seminar: demystifying biostatistics

Biostatistics can be a mysterious concept to many people, even to some clinical researchers. In fact, biostatistics can sound like a foreign language at times. Nevertheless, biostatistics and data analyses are critically important and integral to clinical and translation research across several disciplines, especially as scientific data have become larger and more complex in recent years.

2000px-Fisher_iris_versicolor_sepalwidth.svgIn this talk, presented by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, we will demystify biostatistics by providing concrete examples commonly encountered in our interactions with Johns Hopkins University scientists. We will give details about the data analytical services currently provided by collaborators working at the Johns Hopkins Biostatistics Center, and are also available to answer specific questions about how the Biostatistics Center might be of help with analyses for your particular scientific questions.

Dr. Richard Thompson and Dr. Gayane Yenokyan from the Department of Biostatics will present on March 23, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. in 102 Mason Hall  (the Alumni Boardroom). Seating is limited, please RSVP to cbryant@jhu.edu by March 22. Light refreshments will be served.

Promoting STEM education to Baltimore’s young people

Beyond acquiring data and publishing results, the graduate school experience should be more focused on being able to learn and understand new things from our daily experiments. It is also our responsibility as scientists to be able to share this knowledge to the public.

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

For the last few years at Johns Hopkins University, I am very happy to have had the chance to be a part of volunteer programs geared towards helping  young people in Baltimore’s schools. Two of those are specifically for promoting STEM (that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in elementary and high school students: STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) and Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE). I think both are really good programs.

I’ve met mentors and staff that are very dedicated to running these programs, and I highly recommend that graduate students participate in these mentoring opportunities. Seeing the students’ output at the end of the program and how they developed their skills within a short time is very fulfilling. It’s also surprising how I learned so much from teaching them, because it somehow requires me to be able to explain my research to these kids.

SABES, a five-year project that involves nine Baltimore City elementary and elementary/middle schools, is aimed at improving the city’s STEM curriculum and delivery in third through fifth graders. Mentors come to afterschool programs, and help students in their inquiry-based projects. The goal is to help the kids think in both a scientific and engineering way in the projects.

It’s so nice to see that the kids are very excited, and it’s very easy to get them involved in all the activities. I was surprised at first as to how competitive they are with each other, which I think drives them to be more interested and perform better in the assigned activities. I like how the program provides hands-on experience to the mentors in teaching the kids and how the structure of the program lets the kids think on their own rather than dictating what they should do.

Spring 2015 STEM Showcase organized by SABES.

Spring 2015 STEM Showcase organized by SABES (Used with permission)

The WISE program started in 2005 as a collaboration between Garrison Forrest School and Johns Hopkins University. The goal is to encourage female high school students from Baltimore to pursue their interest in science and engineering. The program allows these students to work in a research lab in Hopkins with their graduate student mentors. At the end, they were asked to give a presentation about their work in front of the other students, graduate student mentors and professors. I had a chance to mentor one student last Spring, and she is now accepting admission offers from colleges and universities and is planning to major in biology.

Overall, I think these programs are helpful to both the students and the mentors—students get more exposure to STEM activities while the mentors get to take a break from research by talking to the kids and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm in science with these students. Usually, grad students would have a couple of coffee breaks within a day; why not be a mentor for a few hours per week and spend time with young kids to talk about science? Who knows, you might be helping a child become a future scientist or engineer from these simple things. It’s definitely, worth your time.

Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a fourth year INBT graduate student in the Johns Hopkins Department of Chemistry working in Professor J. D. Tovar’s lab. She is co-advised by Professor Hai-Quan Mao.

Media inquiries should be directed to INBT science writer Mary Spiro at mspiroATjhuDOTcom. 

Rong Li to give keynote talk at March 11 grad symposium

Rong Li, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Whiting School of Engineering, will present the keynote talk at the Friday, March 11 graduate student organized symposium for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. The event will be held from 12:30 to 4 p.m. in the Sherwood Room in Levering Hall on the Homewood campus of the university.

Twice a year, the graduate students of INBT coordinate a half-day symposium to feature the work of their colleagues. Aside from the faculty keynote address, all talks are given by pre-doctoral candidates or postdocs from INBT affiliate laboratories. This event is free and open to the Hopkins community.

INBT Mini Symposium Flyer

The agenda and talk titles are as follows:

12:30-1:00PM: Food, Coffee, Networking
1:00-1:10PM: Introductory remarks by Jackson Destefano and Jacob Sarnecki
1:10-1:30PM: Ran Lin, “Supramolecular drug ampiphile hydrogels for local therapy”
1:30-1:50PM: Herdeline Ardona, “Demonstration of energy transfer within self-assembling bioelectronic hydrogelators with tunable properties”
1:50-2:10PM: Lindsay Clegg, “Extracellular matrix binding regulates VEGF signaling and effectiveness of pro-angiogenic therapy”
2:10-2:30PM: Nash Rochman (NTCR Fellow), “Noise: Music to my ears”
2:30-3:00PM: Sarah Kim, “Design of pH-triggered, macromolecular pore-forming peptides for endosomal escape”
3:00-4:00PM: Rong Li, “Cell dynamics in space, time and evolution”

 

 

Researchers honored with Presidential career awards

Two Johns Hopkins researchers were honored by the White House for their research achievements, including one biomedical engineer affiliated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT).

Namandje Bumpus, Ph.D., and Jordan Green, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are among 105 winners of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, which were announced by the White House on Feb. 18. The awards recognize young researchers who are employed or funded by federal agencies “whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s pre-eminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions,” according to a White House statement.

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Barack Obama said in the statement. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Namandje Bumpus, left, and Jordan Green. CREDIT Keith Weller, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Namandje Bumpus, left, and Jordan Green.
CREDIT
Keith Weller, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Bumpus, an associate professor of medicine and of pharmacology and molecular sciences, also serves as the school of medicine’s associate dean for institutional and student equity. Her research focuses on how the body processes HIV medications, converting them into different molecules, and the actions of those molecules. In recent studies, she has found genetic differences in how people process popular HIV drugs, suggesting genetic testing should have a greater role to play in combating the virus. “Since joining Johns Hopkins in 2010, Namandje has made tremendous progress toward ultimately making HIV treatment more personalized and effective,” says Mark Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Department of Medicine. “This is a well-deserved recognition of her work, and I look forward to seeing how she will continue to advance the field.”

Green, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, neurosurgery, oncology and ophthalmology, and a member of INBT, was named one of Popular Science’s Brilliant Ten in 2014. He develops nanoparticles that could potentially deliver therapeutics to the precise place in the body where they’re needed — to make tumor cells self-destruct, for example, while leaving healthy cells intact. “Jordan’s innovations and productivity are exceptional, and his findings have very exciting implications for patients,” says Leslie Tung, Ph.D., interim director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “He is truly an extraordinary and exemplary early-career scientist, and a wonderful colleague as well.”

The 105 award winners will be recognized at a White House ceremony this spring.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Pushing past challenges in undergraduate research

When I first applied to Johns Hopkins University, I was convinced I did not want to study engineering. I was hesitant to participate in any kind of research and wasn’t all that confident in my technical skills. I thought research would be boring and perhaps unnecessarily difficult. Still, I enjoyed biology and chemistry in high school, so I figured I would major in either one of those two subjects. After taking an engineering sampler seminar course, I found myself attracted to chemical and biomolecular engineering (ChemBE). I still had my reservations about majoring in it, but I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. So, I told myself: if I absolutely hate it, I’ll switch to something different, and if I like it, great, I’ll stick with it. And it turned out that I loved it.

Fatima Umanzor works in the laboratory of Denis Wirtz (photo by Mary Spiro)

Fatima Umanzor works in the laboratory of Denis Wirtz (photo by Mary Spiro)

After a semester of taking introductory chemistry and physics classes, I sat down with my faculty advisor, Dr. Denis Wirtz, and he asked me if I had thought about research. I told him that I had and that I really wanted to work in his lab, even if it meant waiting for a spot to open up. Smiling, he told me it would be no problem. I got an email in the late summer from my soon-to-be mentor, Hasini Jayatilaka, asking whether I would be interested in interviewing to work for her. Excited, I replied that I would be and we met soon after. Since then, my perception of research has changed for the better.

These days, I can be found in the lab most of the time, with the exception of weeks filled with midterms. When I’m not in class, I may be in the cell culture room making 3D type I collagen I matrices or conducting immunofluorescence staining, or in the bacterial room performing an RNA extraction for PCR, or in the office space, analyzing data. With each experiment that we run, I learn something new. Most of what I know about the way cancer works comes from the research that I’ve conducted related to cancer cell metastasis in Dr. Wirtz’s lab, which is a part of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). I continue to learn more from these investigations than I do in the classroom. I’ve gained so many new skills that I know will be invaluable one day should I decide to pursue my own PhD or work in an industrial setting.

But I’ve gained so much more than just research experience: I’ve become more confident in my ability to learn and grow as a student and researcher, my mentor and peers in the lab have become sources of advice and wisdom, as well as some of my closest friends, and I’ve been exposed to so many cool opportunities I didn’t know I had before. For example, this summer I was able to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I’m certain that I have my lab experience (and Dr. Wirtz) to thank for making that experience possible.

While there are days that I feel like I’m not cut out for ChemBE, I can always come back to my research team and feel assured that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Between team outings and hearing stories of past experiences, I know that I am not alone when times get hard. And while at times I struggle to deal with discouraging exam grades or frustratingly difficult problem sets, I know that my experiences more than make up for flaws in other aspects and that the time spent on my work in the lab is not in vain. I am lucky enough to work for someone who sees a lot of potential in me, even when I don’t see it in myself, and pushes me to pursue various opportunities and believes in me. That belief and support is a priceless part of what I get from working in the INBT.

Overall, I would say research is one of the most rewarding aspects of my undergraduate career. I’ve made friends, gained an assortment of skills and a lot of new knowledge, and have learned more about myself and potential post-grad opportunities. I’m grateful I can come into a space every day with a purpose and set goals for myself, surrounded by people who are passionate about their work, and be motivated to work hard and discover something new each day.

Fatima Umanzor is a junior studying chemical and biomolecular engineering with a concentration in molecular and cellular bioengineering and an interest in cancer metastasis and tumorigenesis.

All press inquiries about INBT should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director at mspiroATjhu.edu.

 

 

Two INBT affiliates among 2016 Siebel Scholars

Two of the five Johns Hopkins graduate students who were recently named to the 2016 class of Siebel Scholars are affiliated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Congratulations to Sebastian F. Barreto Ortiz, who is completing his PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the lab of Sharon Gerecht, and to Dong Jin Shin, who is completing his PhD in biomedical engineering in the laboratory of Jeff Tza-Huei Wang in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Dong Jin Shin (l) and Sebastian Barreto-Ortiz are among the 2016 Siebel Scholars.

Dong Jin Shin (l) and Sebastian Barreto-Ortiz are among the 2016 Siebel Scholars.

Barreto-Ortiz, who was part of INBT’s Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence training grant, is developing human blood vessels to replace damaged or diseased vessels in patients. Barreto engineered the first self-standing mid-sized vascular construct (less than 1 millimeter in diameter), which could eventually connect tiny capillaries with much larger lab-grown vessels.

Shin is a fellow in INBT’s Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center. His research focuses on droplet magnetofluidics and biomedical instrumentation with the aim to build small, low-cost lab-on-a-chip devices that can perform diagnostic tests at a point-of-care that produce results in an hour or less. He recently unveiled a prototype that can detect the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia within 30 minutes. (Read more about this technology in an article in The Baltimore Sun here.) The technology could eventually be used to detect cancer biomarkers as well as infectious diseases such as strep throat and the flu.

The merit-based Siebel program recognizes research skills, academic achievements and leadership qualities and provides $35,000 for use in the students’ final year of graduate studies. Read about all the Siebel scholars here.

All press inquiries about INBT should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director at mspiroATjhu.edu.

INBT alum named 2015 Outstanding Young Engineer in Maryland

Laura Ensign-Hodges, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was recently named the 2015 Outstanding Young Engineer by the Maryland Academy of Sciences at the Maryland Science Center (see video below). Ensign, who graduated from Johns Hopkins with a doctorate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2012, was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow through the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and among INBT’s first training grant students. We asked her how her experience with INBT helped guide her career path.

Copyright 2011 by Marty Katz

Laura Ensign-Hodges (Photo by Marty Katz)

What role did your association with INBT play in your research and career path?

Joining INBT as an HHMI fellow was one of the reasons I decided to come to JHU for graduate school. The emphasis on multidisciplinary research is something I’ve certainly carried with me throughout my training. I strongly believe that truly impactful research results from multidisciplinary teams/collaboration.

Why did you choose to stay at JHU/JHMI after graduation?

I chose to stay at JHU/JHMI for a few reasons: (1) I had many new and exciting research areas developing to which I am intellectually and emotionally attached, (2) the research environment at JHU/JHMI is unparalleled and an ideal place for multidisciplinary collaboration and translational research;  and (3) it made the most sense for my family as well as my career.

What advice might you give to young women thinking about going into engineering?

My advice for women thinking about going into engineering is to approach it with no reservations or assumptions. Although engineering is still a male-dominated field, I have worked alongside many well-respected, successful female engineers … and they didn’t have to act more “like a man”!

What are your current research interests?

My current research interests can generally be encompassed in mucosal drug delivery and characterization of mucosal barriers and microbiome. The applications range from treatment of inflammatory bowel disease to prevention of preterm labor.

Learn more about Laura Ensign-Hodges’ research here.

 

All press inquiries about INBT should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director at mspiroATjhu.edu.

Gerecht to present Frontier Award Lecture Dec. 1

Sharon Gerecht, Kent Gordon Croft Investment Management Faculty Scholar and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will present the Inaugural President’s Frontier Award Lecture at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1 in Mason Hall Auditorium. A reception will follow.

Sharon Gerecht

Sharon Gerecht

Gerecht is a bioengineer whose research focuses on using engineering fundamentals to study basic questions in stem cell biology in order to regenerate and repair damaged blood vessels and halt the spread of cancer.

In January, Gerecht became the first winner of the $250,000 President’s Frontier Award. She will become an associate director of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology in January.