What is INBT?

At Johns Hopkins University, the Institute for NanoBioTechnology is sort of a strange hybrid animal— a unique entity in academia. Founded in 2006, we are a virtual center that draws faculty membership from four divisions – the medical school, engineering school, school of arts and sciences and from public health.

Four different divisions comprise INBT.

Four different divisions comprise INBT.

Two faculty members, Peter Searson, the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus H. Smoot Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, started INBT. They thought it made sense to combine the efforts of people in engineering with people working in the medical and basic sciences as well as in public health to better solve problems in health care. We have more than 220 affiliated faculty members. There are no other centers or institutes at Hopkins with as many participants from as many different disciplines.

Any faculty member can become a member of INBT; they just have to have an interest in incorporating nanobiotechnology—or science at the scale of just a few atoms—into their research. Researchers at INBT are working on everything from drug delivery systems to solving problems in basic science and engineering using nanobiotechnology.

Physically, INBT is located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Suite 100 of Croft Hall. That’s where our administrative offices are and some of our faculty members have laboratories in this building. But our research occurs wherever our faculty members are working, and much of that is at the School of Medicine. In fact, nearly half of our members come from the medical school. Faculty members in other divisions are mostly likely collaborating with people at the School of Medicine.

At INBT, we search for funding opportunities for our members and offer small seed grants that help collaborators launch projects. Sometimes these projects are later funded and sustained by larger federal grants. We feel good about helping new ideas find “legs”.

In addition, we train up-and-coming scientists and engineers from high school through the postdoctoral level in our affiliated labs. These include short-term summer programs as well as highly competitive government funded research experiences and fellowships that last several years. INBT is educating the next generation of researchers who will solve problems at the interface of science, engineering and medicine. Our graduate students who fulfill specific requirements are awarded a Certificate of Advanced Study in NanoBioTechnology.

We have global outreach programs as well. INBT has funded research teams to India and Tanzania to solve engineering problems in local communities. Sometimes the challenges are medical, and sometimes they are purely engineering, but the teams much use local materials and resources to accomplish their goals.

Finally, we have industry affiliations. By working with companies in the U.S. and worldwide, we are developing training opportunities for our students that result in the development of new knowledge and hopefully new patented and marketable products. We don’t want to keep our innovations in the lab; we want to bring them to people for the benefit of humankind.

So in a nutshell, that’s what INBT is all about. To learn more about some of our specific programs and about some of the other centers we have launched under the INBT “brand”, read the other articles in this series. You can also watch this video about INBT. 

This article is part of a series of brief reports on INBT and its different components and programs. Together, we hope these articles will help readers inside and outside of the Johns Hopkins University community to understand what INBT is and what we do.

 

Studying cells in 3D, the way it should be

When scientists experiment on cells in a flat Petri dish, it’s more been a matter of convenience than anything that recapitulates what that cell experiences in real life. Johns Hopkins professor Denis Wirtz for some time has been growing and studying cells three dimensions, rather than the traditional two dimensions. And pretty much, he’s discovered that a lot of what we think we know about cells is dead wrong.

cancer-in-3d-impact_0

Cell in 3D. Image by Anjil Giri/Wirtz Lab

In this recent article by Johns Hopkins writer Dale Keiger, you will discover what Wirtz has discovered through his investigations. Furthermore, you will find out about the man behind these revolutionary ideas that are turning basic cell biology upside-down, as well as challenge a lot of what we thought we understood about diseases like cancer.

Wirtz directs the Johns Hopkins Physical-Sciences Oncology Center and is associate director and co-founder of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He recently launched the Center for Digital Pathology. He is a the Theophilus Halley Smoot professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

You can read the entire magazine article “Moving cancer research out of the Petri dish and into the third dimension” online here at the JHU Hub.

Q & A: Nanopaprika, the social network for nanoscience

About the same time that Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) came into existence, which was May 2006, a network was established online for people interested in all things nano. The International NanoScience Community, or TINC for short, wasn’t some government agency initiative or research center based website, but a social network, much like Facebook, that specialized in helping connect people across the globe interested in reading about, working in, studying or otherwise investing their time in all things nanoscience-related.

nanopaprika-logoI joined TINC in the fall of 2007, shortly after coming to work at INBT. Since I was new to nanotechnology, I thought it might be a good way for me to find out about things going on in the field in a less structured way than reading the journal articles published by the faculty I was writing about. I wasn’t actively conducting research in nanotechnology, but it was interesting to read about what other people were doing across the globe. It helped gain perspective on where Johns Hopkins was in the global nanotech environment. I also thought it would be a good way to get the word out about some of the work INBT researchers were doing.

Over time, I have occasionally posted items and connected with people on TINC. Both TINC and I celebrated six years in nano in 2013, so I thought it would be fun to catch up with András Paszternák, creator and editor of The International NanoScience Community. Here is a short Q&A. Since the URL of TINC is Nanopaprika.eu, Paszternák sometimes just refers to it as Nanopaprika. The site’s tag line says it all “the spicy world of NanoScience,”  and paprika is an important Hungarian spice. Read on!

András Paszternák creator and editor of The International NanoScience Community.

András Paszternák
creator and editor of The International NanoScience Community.

When exactly did TINC start?

On 27th of November 2007, it will be six years old in this month.

What is your goal with TINC?

The main idea was to create something more personal than the other nano networks already on the Internet, something open for students as well as for senior researchers. I was asked by my supervisor Prof. Erika Kalman at the Chemical Research Center of Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest, Hungary) to edit an existing Hungarian nanotech site, but I came up with the idea to create a scientific social network, which could be so much bigger, spreading like a tree and connecting nano scientists across the globe. I have been editing the webpage in my free time along with my professional work as a chemist since the beginning.

Over the last six years, how has TINC attained these goals?

We have today 6,641 members coming from more than 80 countries. Thanks to Nanopaprika, several students have found PhD and postdoctoral positions and found information about new nanotech developments. Senior researchers have met talented students; shared news about their results and found new collaboration partners. Nanopaprika is like an open source to connect nano addicted people and share the latest news in our scientific field.

Why do you think this sort of network is important?

As we can see from Facebook, social networking can really bring people, families and friends closer to each other. I think, next to LinkedIN or ResearchGate (big specific networks with millions of users) small professional networks (like Nanopaprika ) can bring the opportunity to create bonds on a personal level between scientist and students. There is a competition between scientific networks – most researchers don’t like to be registered into several social networks– only the most interesting and most scientific will survive this war. Hopefully, Nanopaprika will be among these.

What do you value most about contributors?

Any news, information is welcome. Some members start just forum topics, others share the abstracts of fresh papers, write blog posts about nanosafety, nanotech education and so forth. A scientific social network is like a LEGO game, everybody can bring their bricks. Just some numbers:  we have 5,090 blog posts, 668 discussions topics, 382 shared nanoevents, 2,208 photos and 387 videos – so Nanopaprika is really a spicy world of nanoscience.

Why should someone join this network?

The door is open for everybody, there is no registration fee, just check www.nanopaprika.eu and if you like it, click on sign In.

By Mary Spiro, INBT science writer.

Six years on my fantastic nano-bio voyage, and counting

Back in 2003, several jobs before I came to work at Johns Hopkins University, a coworker asked me if I had ever heard of nanotechnology. I had heard the term, certainly, but I wasn’t sure what it was or what it could do. We came to the conclusion that nanotech was probably something like the technology presented in that 1960s science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage”, in which a team of medical doctors where shrunken, placed in a capsule and injected into a man’s bloodstream in an attempt to treat him, except you know, not LITERALLY like that. Then I forgot all about nano. I never imagined it would have a major impact on my life, let alone anyone else’s.

Then, in 2007 I was hired to be the science writer for the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT), and I had to get up to speed on all this nano-bio stuff in a hurry. I learned that nano is at the scale of just a few atoms and that a nanometer is as small as 1/100,000th the width of the human hair. Through discussions with the 200 plus researchers affiliated with INBT, I can honestly say that I never imagined that nanotech could be or would be used in some of the ways that it has been. Most references on nanotechnology mention its use in electronics such as cell phones or in materials for sports gear. You can even find nano in cosmetics and stain repellant clothing.

Here at Hopkins, researchers are going far beyond materials and electronics uses. Nanotechnology is being developed for drug delivery, to trigger the immune system to fight disease, as scaffolds for tissue engineering, and to study cancer at the single cell level, among many other things. Each month, faculty members affiliated with INBT publish leading-edge research on nano-related science in peer-reviewed journals. All the possible avenues for its use can be overwhelming. There are also some INBT researchers investigating the potential risks from nanobiotechnology alongside the numerous benefits.

To tell you about these findings, we have established a blog, newsletters and the Nano-Bio Magazine. We have engaging and educational animations from the INBT animation studio, directed by Martin Rietveld. And each summer I teach a course for our science and engineering graduate students that trains them to create videos about their work, which we later show at the INBT Film Fest. Every week, we are developing new ways to get the word out on what INBT is doing and how its work can improve our lives.

Ten years ago, I never imagined nanotechnology would have a major impact on my life, let alone anyone else’s. But nanotechnology and nanoBIOtechnology are going to be around for a while, although most people won’t think about it unless and until they have some reason to confront it. The potential of nanobiotechnology for solving problems in medicine and healthcare has yet to be fully realized. I would like to think that in my lifetime we would see the direct and tangible benefits of nanotechnology in medicine at the patient care level. I think that is already starting to happen. I am glad to be part of this “fantastic voyage” of discovery at Johns Hopkins. I hope that what we do here to communicate these discoveries to you helps make you feel like you are part of that journey, too.

Mary Spiro is the science writer and blog maven for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Check out our videos and animations on INBT’s YouTube Channel.

Read Nano-Bio Magazine.

Go on a Fantastic Voyage!

 

 

In cancer fight, one sportsball-shaped particle works better than another

Apparently in the quest to treat or cure cancer, football trumps basketball. Research from the laboratory of Jordan Green, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has shown that elliptical football-shaped microparticles do a better job than basketball-shaped ones in triggering an immune response that attacks cancer cells.

football particles-greenGreen collaborated with Jonathan Schneck, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology, medicine and oncology. Both are affiliated faculty members of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Their work was published in the journal Biomaterials on Oct 5.

The particles, which are essentially artificial antigen presenting cells (APCs), are dotted with tumor proteins (antigens) that signal trouble to the immune response. It turns out that flattening the spherical particles into more elliptical, football-like shapes provides more opportunities for the fabricated APCs to come into contact with cells, which helps initiate a stronger immune response.

If you think about it, this makes sense. You can’t tackle someone on the basketball court the way you can on the gridiron.

Read the Johns Hopkins press release here:

FOOTBALL-SHAPED PARTICLES BOLSTER THE BODY’S DEFENSE AGAINST CANCER

Read the journal article here:

Particle shape dependence of CD8+ T cell activation by artificial antigen presenting cells

Gerecht research featured in Baltimore Sun science section

Science journalism is coming back to The Baltimore Sun, or so it would seem. Evidence of this comes in the form of this well written article by Arthur Hirsch about work in the laboratory of Sharon Gerecht, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Photo  from The Baltimore Sun.

Photo from The Baltimore Sun.

The Gerecht lab is working on ways to coax stem cells into becoming tiny micro blood vessels, the kind crucial to feeding nutrients to new or transplanted tissue. Without these smallest branches of blood vessel, tissue cannot thrive.

Hirsch does an excellent job at not only deftly reporting Gerecht’s findings but beautifully describing what the vessels look like and the overall significance of the work. But this is not a critique of Hirsch’s writing. I am unqualified to do that. What this IS, is a tip of the hat to The Baltimore Sun for a) actually having a science story that was about the work of local scientists and b) assigning an extremely competent writer to produce the work.

I say this, because for the last 10 years or so, there seems to have been a steady decline in science reporting in by local media. The decline was in the quantity as well as in the quality. The New York Times still had their Tuesday Science Times, and a few other major dailies have managed to keep their science sections alive. But overall, there was a sharp and rapid decline in science journalist positions at smaller newspapers. Entire departments were disassembled. Bureaus shut down. Science stories, if they were written, were about “news you could use” and were relegated to newbie writers, many of who had little or no scientific understanding. Many former science reporters moved into the blogosphere or took up public relations jobs, like I did.

But the Gerecht story was about basic science, not about some new gadget that could fix this or that right now. It was about the scientific process and “eureka” moments. It gave insight into how scientists work, and even more importantly, how LONG it takes to arrive at a significant finding. (In this case, it has taken Gerecht 10 years to arrive at these findings.)

Maybe there is hope for the future of science journalism at the local level yet.

Check out The Sun story here:

Lab-grown blood vessels made with less ado

Mary Spiro is the science writer and blog maven for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. All comments can be sent to mspiro@jhu.edu.