Biodegradable nanoparticles ideal carrier for drug delivery

Johns Hopkins University researchers have created biodegradable nanosized particles that can easily slip through the body’s sticky and viscous mucus secretions to deliver a sustained-release medication cargo. The researchers say that these nanoparticles, which degrade over time into harmless components, could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including diseases of the eye, lung, gut or female reproductive tract.

The mucus-penetrating biodegradable nanoparticles were developed by an interdisciplinary team led by Justin Hanes, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering*. The team’s work was reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hanes’ collaborators included cystic fibrosis expert Pamela Zeitlin, a professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Individual biodegradable nanoparticle developed by the Justin Hanes Lab at Johns Hopkins University (shown here at microscale for easier imaging) displaying polymer coating as a red fluorescent glow. Hanes' biodegradable nanoparticles have the ability to penetrate mucus barriers in the body to deliver drugs. (Photo by Jie Fu/JHU)

Individual biodegradable nanoparticle developed by the Justin Hanes Lab at Johns Hopkins University (shown here at microscale for easier imaging) displaying polymer coating as a red fluorescent glow. Hanes’ biodegradable nanoparticles have the ability to penetrate mucus barriers in the body to deliver drugs. (Photo by Jie Fu/JHU)

These nanoparticles, Zeitlin said, could be an ideal means of delivering drugs to people with cystic fibrosis, a disease that kills children and adults by altering the mucus barriers in the lung and gut. “Cystic fibrosis mucus is notoriously thick and sticky and represents a huge barrier to aerosolized drug delivery,” she said. “In our study, the nanoparticles were engineered to travel through cystic fibrosis mucus at a much greater velocity than ever before, thereby improving drug delivery. This work is critically important to moving forward with the next generation of small molecule– and gene-based therapies.”

Beyond their potential applications for cystic fibrosis patients, the nanoparticles also could be used to help treat disorders such as lung and cervical cancer and inflammation of the sinuses, eyes, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, said Benjamin C. Tang, lead author of the journal article and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “Chemotherapy is typically given to the whole body and has many undesired side effects,” he said. “If drugs are encapsulated in these nanoparticles and inhaled directly into the lungs of lung cancer patients, drugs may reach lung tumors more effectively and improved outcomes may be achieved, especially for patients diagnosed with early stage non–small cell lung cancer.”

“If drugs are encapsulated in these nanoparticles and inhaled directly into the lungs of lung cancer patients, drugs may reach lung tumors more effectively and improved outcomes may be achieved, especially for patients diagnosed with early stage non–small cell lung cancer.” ~ Ben Tang

In the lungs, eyes, gastrointestinal tract and other areas, the human body produces layers of mucus to protect sensitive tissue. But an undesirable side effect is that these mucus barriers can also keep helpful medications away.

In proof-of-concept experiments, previous research teams led by Hanes earlier demonstrated that latex particles coated with polyethylene glycol could slip past mucus coatings. But latex particles are not a practical material for delivering medication to human patients because they are not broken down by the body. In the new study, the researchers described how they took an important step forward in making new particles that biodegrade into harmless components while delivering their drug payload over time.

“The major advance here is that we were able to make biodegradable nanoparticles that can rapidly penetrate thick and sticky mucus secretions, and that these particles can transport a wide range of therapeutic molecules, from small molecules such as chemotherapeutics and steroids to macromolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids,” Hanes said. “Previously, we could not get these kinds of sustained-release treatments through the body’s sticky mucus layers effectively.”

The new biodegradable particles comprise two parts made of molecules routinely used in existing medications. An inner core, composed largely of polysebacic acid, or PSA, traps therapeutic agents inside. A particularly dense outer coating of polyethylene glycol, or PEG, molecules, which are linked to PSA, allows a particle to move through mucus nearly as easily as if it were moving through water and also permits the drug to remain in contact with affected tissues for an extended period of time.

In Hanes’ previous studies with mucus-penetrating particles, latex particles could be effectively coated with PEG but could not release drugs or biodegrade. Unlike latex, however, PSA can degrade into naturally occurring molecules that are broken down and flushed away by the body through the kidney, for example. As the particles break down, the drugs loaded inside are released.

This property of PSA enables the sustained release of drugs, said Samuel Lai, assistant research professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, while designing them for mucus penetration allows them to more readily reach inaccessible tissues.

Biodegradable nanoparticles produced by the Justin Hanes Lab at Johns Hopkins University visualized under a scanning electron microscope. (Photo by Ben Tang and Mark Koontz/JHU)

Biodegradable nanoparticles produced by the Justin Hanes Lab at Johns Hopkins University visualized under a scanning electron microscope. (Photo by Ben Tang and Mark Koontz/JHU)

Jie Fu, an assistant research professor, also from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said, “As it degrades, the PSA comes off along with the drug over a controlled amount of time that can reach days to weeks.”

PEG acts as a shield to protect the particles from interacting with proteins in mucus that would cause them to be cleared before releasing their contents. In a related research report, the group showed that the particles can efficiently encapsulate several chemotherapeutics, and that a single dose of drug-loaded particles was able to limit tumor growth in a mouse model of lung cancer for up to 20 days.

Hanes, Zeitlin, Lai and Fu are all affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Other authors on the paper are Ying-Ying Wang, Jung Soo Suk and Ming Yang, doctoral students in the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering; Michael P. Boyle, an associate professor in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and Michelle Dawson, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

This work was supported in part by funding from the National Institutes of Health, a National Center for Research Resources Clinical and Translational Science Award, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the National Science Foundation and a Croucher Foundation Fellowship.

The technology described in the journal article is protected by patents managed by the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Office and is licensed exclusively by Kala Pharmaceuticals. Justin Hanes is a paid consultant to Kala Pharmaceuticals, a startup company in which he holds equity, and is a member of its board. The terms of these arrangements are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies.

(*At the time that this research was published, Hanes had his primary affiliation with the Whiting School of Engineering Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Hanes’ current primary affiliation is with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology.)

Related Links

Biodegradable polymer nanoparticles that rapidly penetrate the human mucus barrier. PNAS 2009 106:19268-19273; published online before print November 9, 2009.  [Institutional access required.]

Hanes Lab

Johns Hopkins Children’s Center

Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Story by Mary Spiro and Jacob Koskimaki with materials provided by Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer.

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Chemical and biomolecular engineer Denis Wirtz named Smoot professor

Denis Wirtz. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz, Johns Hopkins University professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Engineering in Oncology Center, has been named the Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor in the Whiting School of Engineering. University president Ronald J. Daniels and the Board of Trustees determined the recipient.

Wirtz is the founding associate director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He was recently named a 2009 fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in the Engineering Section for his contributions to cell micromechanics, cell adhesion, and for the development and application of particle tracking methods that probe the micromechanical properties of living cells.

He is on the Editorial Boards of Biophysical Journal, Cell Adhesion and Migration and J. Nanomedicine. In 2005, he was named a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Wirtz won the National Science Foundation Career Award in 1996 and the Whitaker Foundation Biomedical Engineering Foundation Award in 1997.

Wirtz came to Johns Hopkins faculty in 1994 and completing a postdoctoral fellowship in Physics and Biophysics at ESPCI (ParisTech). Wirtz earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University in 1993.

An announcement from the Whiting School’s dean Nick Jones stated that, “Throughout his time at Johns Hopkins, Denis has distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar and teacher. Additionally, Denis’ role as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research and collaboration at the university has proven extremely effective, both in terms of the research he conducts and the support he has attracted over the years. I am confident that his current research into the physical basis for cell adhesion and de-adhesion will prove critical to our understanding of the metastasis of cancer and enable important breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the years to come.”

The Smoot Professorship was established in 1981 through the estate of Theophilus H. Smoot, who joined Johns Hopkins as a research assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1942 and later a research associate in the department in 1946. Upon the passing of Mr. Smoot in 1976 and his widow, Helen A. Smoot in 1980, the Theophilus Halley Smoot Fund for Engineering Science was created.  The first Smoot Professorship was awarded in 1981 to Stanley Corrsin, a professor and former chair in the department of mechanical engineering. Robert E. Green, Jr., professor in the department of materials science, held the professorship from 1988 through 2007.

Presentation of the Smoot professorship will occur in the spring.

Wirtz Lab

Named Professorships of The Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center

Story by Mary Spiro and from materials provided by the Whiting School of Engineering.

INBT, EOC directors named AAAS 2009 Fellows

The Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering faculty members who direct the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and Engineering in Oncology Center both have been awarded the distinction of AAAS Fellow. Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

Peter Searson, INBT director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Peter Searson, INBT director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz, EOC director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz, EOC director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Peter C. Searson, the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was named for distinguished contributions to the field of surface chemistry and nanoscience. His research interests include surface and molecular engineering, and semiconductor quantum dots.

Searson directs the interdivisional Institute for NanoBioTechnology launched in May 2006, which brings together researchers from medicine, engineering, the sciences, and public health to create new knowledge and develop new technologies to revolutionize health care and medicine. INBT currently has more than 190 affiliated faculty members. Searson has secondary appointments in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Oncology.

Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus H. Smoot Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was elected for his contributions to cell micromechanics and cell adhesion. He also was distinguished for his development and application for particle tracking methods to probe the micromechanical properties of living cells in normal conditions and disease state. Wirtz studies the biophysical properties of healthy and diseased cells, including interactions between adjacent cells and the role of cellular architecture on nuclear shape and gene expression.

Wirtz directs the newly formed Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center. The EOC is a Physical Sciences in Oncology program center of the National Cancer Institute launched in October 2009 with a $14.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. EOC brings together experts in cancer biology, molecular and cellular biophysics, applied mathematics, materials science, and physics to study and model cellular mobility and the assorted biophysical forces involved in the spread of cancer. Wirtz also serves as co-director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and has a joint appointment in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Oncology.

A total of seven Johns Hopkins faculty members were elected to AAAS this year. Read about all of them in a Johns Hopkins University press release listed in the links below.

This year 531 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 20 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego.  AAAS Fellows were announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on Dec. 18,  2009.

Story by Mary Spiro with materials provided by AAAS.

Seven Johns Hopkins Researchers Named 2009 AAAS Fellows

Searson Group Lab page

Wirtz Group Lab page

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Whiting School of Engineering

On new lab chip, heart cells display a behavior-guiding ‘nanosense’

Johns Hopkins biomedical engineers, working with colleagues in Korea, have produced a laboratory chip with nanoscopic grooves and ridges capable of growing cardiac tissue that more closely resembles natural heart muscle. Surprisingly, heart cells cultured in this way used a “nanosense” to collect instructions for growth and function solely from the physical patterns on the nanotextured chip and did not require any special chemical cues to steer the tissue development in distinct ways. The scientists say this tool could be used to design new therapies or diagnostic tests for cardiac disease.

Leslie Tung, left, and Andre Levchenko, right, both of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, with Deok-Ho Kim, a doctoral student in Levchenko’s lab, who holds a nanopatterned chip able to cue heart cells to behave like natural heart tissue. Photo: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Leslie Tung, left, and Andre Levchenko, right, both of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, with Deok-Ho Kim, a doctoral student in Levchenko’s lab, who holds a nanopatterned chip able to cue heart cells to behave like natural heart tissue. Photo: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

The device and experiments using it are described in this week’s online Early Edition issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work, a collaboration with Seoul National University, represents an important advance for researchers who grow cells in the lab to learn more about cardiac disorders and possible remedies.

“Heart muscle cells grown on the smooth surface of a Petri dish would possess some, but never all, of the same physiological characteristics of an actual heart in a living organism,” said Andre Levchenko, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering. “That’s because heart muscle cells—cardiomyocytes—take cues from the highly structured extracellular matrix, or ECM, which is a scaffold made of fibers that supports all tissue growth in mammals. These cues from the ECM influence tissue structure and function, but when you grow cells on a smooth surface in the lab, the physical signals can be missing. To address this, we developed a chip whose surface and softness mimic the ECM. The result was lab-grown heart tissue that more closely resembles the real thing.”

Levchenko said that when he and his colleagues examined the natural heart tissue taken from a living animal, they “immediately noticed that the cell layer closest to the extracellular matrix grew in a highly elongated and linear fashion. The cells orient with the direction of the fibers in the matrix, which suggests that ECM fibers give structural or functional instructions to the myocardium, a general term for the heart muscle.” These instructions, Levchenko said, are delivered on the nanoscale—activity at the scale of one-billionth of a meter and a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Levchenko and his Korean colleagues, working with Deok-Ho Kim, a biomedical engineering doctoral student in Levchenko’s lab and the lead author of the PNAS article, developed a two-dimensional hydrogel surface simulating the rigidity, size and shape of the fibers found throughout a natural ECM network. This biofriendly surface made of nontoxic polyethylene glycol displays an array of long ridges resembling the folded pattern of corrugated cardboard. The ridged hydrogel sits upon a glass slide about the size of a U.S. dollar coin. The team made a variety of chips with ridge widths spanning from 150 to 800 nanometers, groove widths ranging from 50 to 800 nanometers and ridge heights varying from 200 to 500 nanometers. This allowed researchers to control the surface texture over more than five orders of magnitude of length.

“We were pleased to find that within just two days the cells became longer and grew along the ridges on the surface of the slide,” Kim said. Furthermore, the researchers found improved coupling between adjacent cells, an arrangement that more closely resembled the architecture found in natural layers of heart muscle tissue. Cells grown on smooth, unpatterned hydrogels, however, remained smaller and less organized, with poorer cell-to-cell coupling between layers. “It was very exciting to observe engineered heart cells behave on a tiny chip in two dimensions like they would in the native heart in three dimensions,” Kim said.

Collaborating with Leslie Tung, a professor of biomedical engineering in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the researchers found that after a few more days of growth, cells on the nanopatterned surface began to conduct electric waves and contract strongly in a specific direction, as intact heart muscle would. “Perhaps most surprisingly, these tissue functions and the structure of the engineered heart tissue could be controlled by simply altering the nanoscale properties of the scaffold. That shows us that heart cells have an acute ‘nanosense,’” Levchenko said.

Johns Hopkins researchers developed this chip to culture heart cells that more closely resemble natural cardiac tissue. Photo: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Johns Hopkins researchers developed this chip to culture heart cells that more closely resemble natural cardiac tissue. Photo: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

“This nanoscale sensitivity was due to the ability of cells to deform in sticking to the crevices in the nanotextured surface and probably not because of the presence of any molecular cue,” Levchenko said. “These results show that the ECM serves as a powerful cue for cell growth, as well as a supporting structure, and that it can control heart cell function on the nanoscale separately in different parts of this vital organ. By mimicking this ECM property, we could start designing better-engineered heart tissue.”

Looking ahead, Levchenko said that he anticipates that engineering surfaces with similar nanoscale features in three dimensions, instead of just two, could provide an even more potent way to control the structure and function of cultured cardiac tissue.

In addition to Kim, Levchenko and Tung, authors on this paper are postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth A. Lipke and doctoral students Raymond Cheong and Susan Edmonds Thompson, all from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Biomedical Engineering; Michael Delannoy, assistant director of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Microscope Facility Center; and Pilnam Kim and Kahp-Yang Suh, both of Seoul National University.

Tung and Levchenko are affiliated faculty members of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Thompson is a member of INBT’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship in nanobiotechnology. Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Related Web sites

Andre Levchenko’s Lab

Leslie Tung’s Lab

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Story by Mary Spiro

Cell’s ‘cap’ of bundled fibers could yield clues to disease

Newsletter readers! If you are looking for the 2010 NanoBio Symposium story go to: http://inbt.jhu.edu/outreach/symposium
Doctoral student Shyam Khatau, left, and Denis Wirtz, director of the Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center, played a key role in finding a bundled “cap” of thread-like fibers that holds a cell’s nucleus in its proper place. Photo by Will Kirk, Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu.

Doctoral student Shyam Khatau, left, and Denis Wirtz, director of the Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center, played a key role in finding a bundled “cap” of thread-like fibers that holds a cell’s nucleus in its proper place. Photo by Will Kirk, Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu.

It turns out that wearing a cap is good for you, at least if you are a mammal cell.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center have shown that in healthy cells, a bundled “cap” of thread-like fibers holds the cell’s nucleus, its genetic storehouse, in its proper place. Understanding this cap’s influence on cell and nuclear shape, the researchers say, could provide clues to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and the age-accelerating condition known as progeria.

“Under a microscope, the nucleus of a sick cell appears to bulge toward the top, while the nucleus of a healthy cell appears as a flattened disk that clings to the base,” said principal investigator Denis Wirtz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Engineering in Oncology Center. “If we can figure out how and why this shape-changing occurs, we may learn how to detect, treat or perhaps even prevent some serious medical disorders.”

Scientists have known that misshapen nuclei are an indicator of disease, Wirtz said, but they were not certain how a cell controlled the shape of its nucleus, the structure in mammal cells where genetic material resides. In a study published in the Nov. 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, the research team led by Wirtz reported the discovery of a fibrous structure that holds the nucleus in its place. The researchers call this new network structure the perinuclear actin cap.

“In healthy cells, the perinuclear actin cap is a domed structure of bundled filaments that sits above the nucleus, sort of like a net that is tethered all around to the perimeter of the cell membrane,”

Wirtz said. This configuration pushes the nucleus down toward the base of the cell and also creates the distinctive flattened shape of normal cells. Cells with cancer, muscular dystrophy or progeria, however, lack this distinctive cap, allowing the nucleus to float upward toward the top of the cell’s membrane. These diseased cells may appear more rounded and bulbous.

“The cap controls the shape of the nucleus by controlling the shape of the cell itself,” Wirtz said.

The perinuclear actin cap was discovered while the team was trying to find out if cell shape controls nucleus shape. By growing cells on a surface with alternating sticky and non-sticky stripes, the researchers noticed that as cells grew along a sticky stripe, their nuclei elongated as well. Using a confocal microscope — a special kind of microscope that can view an object one “slice” at a time — doctoral student Shyam Khatau was able to reconstruct the cell in three dimensions. By stacking the confocal microscope images together, Khatau, who is affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, was able to produce short movies showing the 3-D structure of the cells, the nucleus and the perinuclear actin cap. (The movies are online here or below.)

“That’s when we saw the cap,” Khatau said, “and Dr. Wirtz realized we were on to something.”

The cap’s role in disease became evident when Khatau tested cells without the gene to produce lamin A/C, a protein found in the membrane of the nucleus of normal cells but absent in the nuclear membrane of cells from people with muscular dystrophy. Cells without lamin A/C failed to produce the perinuclear actin cap.

“We next plan to study how the cap’s effect on the shape of the nucleus affects what genes the cells express,” said Wirtz.

Khatau, who is pursuing his doctorate in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is lead author of the journal article.

Additional Johns Hopkins authors on this paper are Wirtz; doctoral student Christopher M. Hale and senior Meet Patel from the Whiting School of Engineering’s  Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Peter C. Searson, a professor in the school’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Other co-authors were P. J. Stewart-Hutchinson and Didier Hodzic from the School of Medicine at the Washington University in St. Louis and Colin L. Stewart from the Institute of Medical Biology, Singapore.

This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Story by Mary Spiro

PNAS journal article.

Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Johns Hopkins nanobio summer internship helps undergrads learn research ropes

Summertime flies by when it is spent hard at work in a laboratory; but the 12 student researchers selected for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) still had plenty of fun. Here are highlights of their experience working, living, and playing at Johns Hopkins University this summer. INBT’s NanoBio REU is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Ten weeks of intensive research

Nanobio REU 2009: First Row, l-r: INBT ed. prog. coordintor Ashanti Edwards, Olusoji Afuwape. Second Row: Lawrence Lin, Stefanie Gonzalez, Stephanie Naufel, Hannah Wilson, Amber Ortega. Back row: Chao Yin, Steven Bolger, Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Alex Federation, John Jones Molina. (Spiro/INBT)
Nanobio REU 2009: First Row, l-r: INBT ed. prog. coordinator Ashanti Edwards, Olusoji Afuwape. Second Row: Lawrence Lin, Stefanie Gonzalez, Stephanie Naufel, Hannah Wilson, Amber Ortega. Back row: Chao Yin, Steven Bolger, Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Alex Federation, John Jones Molina. (Spiro/INBT)

Each REU student conducted research for 10 weeks in the lab of an INBT affiliated faculty member who served as their principle investigator (PI). Students were mentored by a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in the faculty member’s lab and developed research projects that could be feasibly completed within this time. Findings were presented at a collaborative poster session. (See section below.)

“When I came to Johns Hopkins, I expected people to be more cutthroat about their work. What I found was that people are very serious about their work, but at the same time they were laid back, approachable and helpful, which made it even better. I would recommend this program to anyone.”  ~Alex Federation, University of Rochester

“I had previously planned to just get my master’s degree and stop, but I had such a great experience that I am now considering getting my PhD.” ~ Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Johns Hopkins University

Beyond the lab

Chao Yin worked at the School of Medicine (Bailey/JHU)
Chao Yin worked at the School of Medicine (Bailey/JHU)

To expose the REU students to concepts and ideas beyond the laboratory, INBT hosted four professional development seminars during June and July. Anyone on campus was welcome to attend these seminars. REU participants had the opportunity to listen to professionals discuss  wide-ranging topics. Talks covered intellectual property, how to market a new technology, how science makes it into the news, and what to expect after graduation. These hour-long talks featured speakers John Fini, director of Intellectual Property for the Homewood schools; Charles Day, senior editor at Physics Today; Tim Weihs, professor of Materials Science and Engineering and co-founder of Reactive NanoTechnologies (makers of NanoFoil®); and Matthew Lesho, Biomedical Engineer with Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems and Hopkins alumnus.

“My lab was great. Everyone was hard working but at the same time they joked around so that made it fun. I enjoyed INBT’s professional development seminars because they gave insight to subjects outside of basic science.”   ~ Chao Yin, Duke University

Unique opportunities

REU student Kayode Sanni, 3rd from left, and assistant prof. Jeff Gray, center, travelled to the RosettaCON 2009 conference in Leavenworth, WA, where Sanni presented his research poster. (Gray Lab/JHU)
REU student Kayode Sanni, 3rd from left, traveled with PI assistant prof. Jeff Gray, center, and the entire Gray Lab to the RosettaCON 2009 conference in Leavenworth, WA, where Sanni presented his research poster. (Gray Lab/JHU)

 

Students integrated fully into the labs where they worked. Research completed by an REU participant could be published on its own, or become part of published work via their PI at some point in the future–and this is a goal.  Principle investigators and mentors work with students to quickly design projects of scientific merit so that research is not merely an exercise, but fulfills the goal of being a “research experience for undergraduates.”  INBT labs to which students are assigned engage in some of the most advanced nanobiotechnology research in the world.  Some students may be able to travel to scientific conferences to present their findings.  Even without this opportunity, however, INBT’s REU participants truly learn what the life of a researcher is like.

Laboratory tours

 

Research undergraduates toured the Molecular Imaging Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Spiro/INBT)
Research undergraduates toured the Molecular Imaging Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Spiro/INBT)

The students had an opportunity to tour the Molecular Imaging Center and Cancer Functional Imaging Core, located in the Broadway Research Building Animal Facility at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The Molecular Imaging Center contains facilities for PET and SPECT scans, MRI and spectroscope, ultrasound, optical imaging, a “faxitron” radiography system and an irradiator. A collection of small research animals used for research also is housed in this building. Elena Artemova, administrative coordinator for the center, provided the students with a comprehensive tour.

Collaborative poster session

At the conclusion of the REU program, participants gathered with other research students from across the John Hopkins University campus for an interdisciplinary research poster session at the School of Medicine. More than 80 students from four divisions, including engineering, medicine, arts and science, and public health, presented posters at this session.

 

Stephanie Naufel and Olusoji Afuwape at collaborative poster session. (Spiro/INBT)
Stephanie Naufel and Olusoji Afuwape at collaborative poster session. (Spiro/INBT)

“I learned a lot and definitely learned how to be a researcher. I gained a better appreciation for the amount of work that goes into each research project.” ~ Stefanie Gonzalez, Milwaukee School of Engineering

“It was challenging and I consider that fun. Originally I was only interested in neuroscience, but through this project, I was exposed to the field of epigenetics so that is something I am willing to pursue. It definitely changed my perception about what I wanted to do.” ~ Olusoji Afuwape, University of Illinois at Chicago

Enjoying life in Baltimore

Baltimore  is a city rich in cultural diversity, and there is always plenty to do.  INBT’s summer nanobio REU students saw the Baltimore Orioles play basebal, enjoyed pizza parties and ice cream socials, and had a chance to try some authentic Maryland steamed crabs. They also got to make friends from different parts of the country who were interested in different disciplines. The REU program provides housing, a stipend, and organized group activities with other summer research program participants so that students have the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds.

 

Maryland's authentic steamed crabs. (Spiro/JHU)
Maryland’s authentic steamed crabs. (Spiro/JHU)

“INBT’s summer REU program is a great way to have networking opportunities with other students, to be interdisciplinary in your research and to learn about different areas of research that you had not thought about before.” ~ Amber Ortega, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

“Although working in a lab with a principle investigator like Doug Robinson was really intense, it pushed me to my limit and I learned a lot. Also the city aspect was nice since I have lived in a small town all my life. There is a lot of culture in Baltimore and that’s what I like.” ~ Lawrence Lin, Rice University

Meet all of INBT 2009 summer nanobio REU students here.

For more information about the  INBT Nanobio REU, click here.

Story by Mary Spiro

Nano education website features INBT mission, programs

The website TryNano.org now features a comprehensive article on Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology  (INBT) and its mission, programs and outreach.

Visit INBT's profile on TryNano.org.

Visit INBT’s profile on TryNano.org.

The TryNano.org website contains feature articles, links, information boxes, videos, and interviews with professionals focused on research and applications of matter at the nanoscale. Generally, the nanoscale is considered to be dimensions from 1 to 100 nanometers, with 1 nm equal to 10-9m. This site strives to a one-stop resource for students, parents, educators and professionals seeking information about nanoscience and nanotechnology. Trynano.org is sponsored by IBM, IEEE and TryScience.

To check out INBT’s profile on TryNano.org, click here.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology updates now on Twitter

Follow INBT on Twitter

For the most up-to-the-minute news on what is happening at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) follow us on Twitter. INBT’s science writer, Mary Spiro, will be tweeting the latest information about the institute’s research, educational programs, newest affiliated faulty members, workshops and events. Follow us at @INBT_JHU or visit the INBT Twitter page.

Baltimore nonprofit partners with INBT to sponsor ‘at-risk’ summer scholars

A stable home and a good education are keys to success that many children take for granted. Two Johns Hopkins faculty members have teamed up with a local nonprofit to make sure two academically capable but life-challenged teens from Baltimore can have these same opportunities. Initiated by Doug Robinson, associate professor of cell biology in the School of Medicine and faculty affiliate of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT), two young men from Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore participated in summer internships in Johns Hopkins laboratories. INBT financially supported the Boys Hope scholars with stipends.

Matthew Green-Hill and Deepak Kalra working in the Montell Lab (Mary Spiro/INBT)

Matthew Green-Hill and Deepak Kalra working in the Montell Lab (Mary Spiro/INBT)

“The main goal was to immerse them in a scientific lifestyle and culture. Their success was measured in terms of each student’s individual progress,” Robinson says. Robinson hosted scholar Donté Jones; Craig Montell, professor of biological chemistry in the School of Medicine, opened up his lab to Matthew Green-Hill. Jones, a sophomore and Green-Hill, a junior, both attend Archbishop Curley High School.

Unlike other programs that try to help children in troubled circumstances by placing them in court-ordered foster homes, students voluntarily apply to Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore to have access to the services it provides, such as a stable home, tutoring, and counseling. Scholars may live together in an adult-supervised home in Baltimore city, but they don’t have to, says the organization’s executive director Chuck Roth.

Scholars attend local private schools, meet with tutors if they need to, earn a weekly allowance for personal expenses, and receive other types of emotional and financial support as needed. The organization has no legal guardianship of the children, Roth adds. As long as their school responsibilities are met, scholars may visit with their families whenever they wish. Roth emphasizes that scholars don’t have records of misbehavior or crime. “These are kids with good potential and who are motivated. They recognize education as a way out of their circumstances,” he says.

Students typically learn about Boys Hope Girls Hope through their school counselors, teachers, relatives, and even their peers. “One of my best friends got into the program, and I didn’t see him for a week. But then he came back and told me about it,” explains Green-Hill. “I literally was one of those kids who knocked on the door of the Boys Hope house and asked to be accepted. I want to be the first person in my family to go to college,” he adds.

At first Green-Hill joined Boys Hope as a non-residential participant, but his home-life was still unsettled. Between middle school and high school, Green-Hill attended seven different schools and moved between several eastern cities. Once his family settled more permanently in Baltimore, he was able to re-apply and move into the supervised Boys Hope home full-time.

Jones had been truant from school for more than two years before he reached the 7th grade and, by his own account, was headed for a “life on the streets.”

Donte Jones and Cathy Kabacoff in Robinson Lab. (Mary Spiro/INBT)

Donte Jones and Cathy Kabacoff in Robinson Lab. (Mary Spiro/INBT)

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like school,” Jones says, “It was just that no one made me go.” After Jones went to live with his aunt, all that changed. She encouraged him to apply to Boys Hope because she saw his academic potential.

Over the summer, Green-Hill was mentored by doctoral student Deepak Kalra in Montell’s biological chemistry lab at the School of Medicine. Kalra involved Green-Hill in as many components of his research as possible and taught him several molecular biology techniques.

“I found Matt to be very sharp and hard working,” Kalra says. “He kept a good record in his lab notebook. Sometimes when he would come to me with a question, I would be intentionally hard and tell him, ‘Go back and look it up in your notebook!’ After a few moments, he would figure it out.” Undaunted by Kalra’s “tough” mentoring, Green-Hill even came in on the weekends to help in the lab.

“At first I thought I wanted to work with athletes and become an orthopedic surgeon,” says Green-Hill, “but after a summer working in the lab, I also might want to go into research so that I can discover ways to help people heal faster.”

Jones also has his heart set on medicine but intends to study nursing when he graduates from high school. Working with research technician Cathy Kabacoff in the Robinson lab, Jones practiced basic lab skills, such as conducting a restriction enzyme digest and measuring protein concentrations. Because Jones had missed several years worth of school, Kabacoff, a former middle school teacher, also helped him improve his writing and mathematics skills. He developed a study plan to research answers to questions of interest to him, such as “What is the Big Bang Theory?” and “What is DNA?”

“For the last two years I’ve been thinking that I wanted to become a nurse, but I also like the science part; I wouldn’t mind working in a lab,” Jones says. “I am taking biology this school year and think I will be better prepared because of all that we worked on.”

Along with their lab work, Robinson and Montell required that the scholars participate in the weekly journal club meetings of the Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP).  PREP, a minority outreach program that targets recently graduated minority students with the goal of helping them hone their skills in preparation for application to PhD programs, provides a good source of young role models.

Montell says it was exciting to see how each scholar progressed. “They arrived with different skill sets and with different interests so their experiences have not been the same. But the earlier that you can participate in someone’s career, the more impact you can have. Due to our location in east Baltimore, we have a responsibility to give back to the community and this is one way we can do that,” Montell says.

Both scholars agree their experiences were positive.

“I know that you have to have teamwork in sports to be successful, but I didn’t know that you have to have teamwork in academics to be successful. This is why I like working with this lab,” Jones wrote in a summary report at the conclusion of his internship.

In his summary, Green-Hill wrote, “…I am happy to have been exposed to this field of medicine…it has made an impact on my thoughts of my future career and has also given me the experience that I will need to have for my college laboratory sciences.”

Story by Mary Spiro

For more information:

Doug Robinson’s Lab

Craig Montell’s Lab

Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore

INBT researchers use LEGO to study what happens inside lab-on-a-chip devices

Johns Hopkins engineers are using a popular children’s toy to help them visualize the behavior of particles, cells and molecules in environments too small to see with the naked eye. These researchers are arranging little LEGO pieces shaped like pegs to recreate microscopic activity taking place inside lab-on-a-chip devices at a scale they can more easily observe. These lab-on-a-chip devices, also known as microfluidic arrays, are commonly used to sort tiny samples by size, shape or composition, but the minuscule forces at work at such a small magnitude are difficult to measure. To solve this small problem, the Johns Hopkins engineers decided to think big.

Led by Joelle Frechette and German Drazer, both assistant professors of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, the team used beads just a few millimeters in diameter, an aquarium filled with goopy glycerol and the LEGO pieces arranged on a LEGO board to unlock mysteries occurring at the micro- or nanoscale level. Their observations could offer clues on how to improve the design and fabrication of lab-on-a-chip technology. Their study concerning this technique was published in the August 14 issue of Physical Review Letters. Both Drazer and Frechette are affiliated faculty members of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

The idea for this project comes from the concept of “dimensional analysis,” in which a process is studied at a different size and time scale while keeping the governing principles the same. [Read more...]