INBT launches Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence

Martin Pomper and Peter Searson will co-direct INBT’s new Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (Photo: Will Kirk/Homewood-JHU)

Faculty members associated with the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology have received a $13.6 million five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to establish a Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. The new Johns Hopkins center brings together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers and physicians to develop nanotechnology-based diagnostic platforms and therapeutic strategies for comprehensive cancer care. Seventeen faculty members will be involved initially, with pilot projects adding more participants later.

The Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, which is part of the university’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology, is one of several NCI-supported centers launched through a funding opportunity started in 2005. According to the NCI, the program was established to create “multi-institutional hubs that integrate nanotechnology across the cancer research continuum to provide new solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

Peter Searson, who is the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering and director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, will serve as the center’s director. The co-director will be Martin Pomper, professor of radiology and oncology at the School of Medicine and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

“A unique feature of the center is the integration of research, education, training and outreach, and technology commercialization,” Searson said.

To move these new technologies toward use by physicians, a Cancer Nanomedicine Commercialization Working Group will be established and headed by John Fini, director of intellectual property for the university’s Homewood campus. This group will be responsible for managing and coordinating the translational process.

Another special feature of the center will be its Validation Core, led by Pomper, who is also associate director of the Johns Hopkins In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center and director of the Johns Hopkins Small Animal Imaging Resource Program.

“Validation is about assuring that the experimental products and results we generate are on target and able to measure the biological effects for which they’re intended,” he said.

Searson and Pomper said the center will consist of four primary research projects.

One project will seek methods to screen bodily fluids such as blood or urine for indicators of cancer found outside of the genetic code, indicators called epigenetic markers. Led by Tza-Huei “Jeff” Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering; Stephen Baylin, the Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research in the School of Medicine; and James Herman, a professor of cancer biology in the School of Medicine, this project will use semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, and silica superparamagnetic particles to detect DNA methylation. Methylation adds a chemical group to the exterior of the DNA and is a biomarker frequently associated with cancer.

A second project, led by Anirban Maitra, associate professor of pathology and oncology at the School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, will focus on curcumin, a substance found in the traditional Indian spice turmeric. In preclinical studies, curcumin has demonstrated anti-cancer properties but, because of its physical size, it is not readily taken up into the bloodstream or into tissues. Engineered curcumin nanoparticles, however, can more easily reach tumors arising in abdominal organs such as the pancreas, Maitra said. This team will try to determine whether nanocurcumin, combined with chemotherapeutic agents, could become a treatment for highly lethal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer.

Hyam Levitsky, professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, will lead a third project, which will seek to use a noninvasive method to monitor the effectiveness of vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases.

A final project will build on the work of Justin Hanes and Craig Peacock, professors in the School of Medicine, to deliver therapies directly to small cell lung cancer tissue via mucus-penetrating nanoparticles.

All research efforts will be supported by a nanoparticle engineering core, led by Searson, which will make and characterize a variety of nanomaterials. Another core, centering on bioinformatics and data sharing, will be led by Rafael Irizarry, professor of biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Johns Hopkins Researchers Appointed to Governor’s Task Force to Study Nanobiotechnology

Peter Searson

Steve Desiderio

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has appointed Peter Searson and Steve Desiderio, two researchers from The Johns Hopkins University, to serve on a special task force to study the benefits of nanobiotechnology.

According to the governor’s office, the mission of the task force is “to study the benefits of nanobiotechnology including job creation, the development of lifesaving treatments, reductions in health care costs, the development of state-of-the-art electronics, medical equipment, chemical processes and other commercial products.”

Nanotechnology involves the application of materials and devices at the scale of just a few atoms in diameter. Nanobiotechnology attempts to apply these tiny technologies to medicine and basic science.

Searson is the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Engineering in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering. He is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and he directs the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in England and was a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Baltimore.

Desiderio is director of the Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, director of the Immunobiology Program at the Institute for Cell Engineering and a professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Desiderio earned his M.D. and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Desiderio also lives in Baltimore.

Both Searson and Desiderio are involved with research related to nanobiotechnology. Searson’s interests include nanoscience, biophysics and bioengineering. He led the launch of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology, which was established in 2006 as a cross-divisional center with research interests in the basic sciences, engineering, medicine and public health.

Desiderio’s research focuses on the immune system: how immune cells are able to recognize a diverse number of pathogens and respond to environmental cues. He studies the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying the development of the immune system. In 2007, Desiderio was appointed by O’Malley to the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board.

The nanobiotechnology task force will be chaired by state Sen. Jennie M. Forehand and Del. Susan C. Lee. In addition to Searson and Desiderio, task force members include Nariman Farvadin, Peter Swaan, Esther H. Chang, Lisbeth Pettengill, Patrick Y. Lu and Lawrence Tamarkin.

Along with examining the scientific and medical benefits of nanobiotechnology, the task force members expect to look at the economic impact that the development of such technologies might have on the state of Maryland, including the creation of jobs.

The governor’s office also stated that the group will study the “generation of revenue for the state and improvements to the quality of life for the state’s citizens and the state’s role in supporting Maryland’s leadership in nanobiotechnology, including: promoting public-private partnerships; assisting companies in technology transfers, including from research to commercial product; promoting research; protecting intellectual property; offering appropriate financial incentives; including tax credits; and capturing and leveraging federal funds for both public and private ventures; and make recommendations regarding actions that the state should take to promote the growth of the nanobiotechnology industries in the state.”

MedImmune scientist focuses final INBT seminar on ‘soft skills’


Ambarish Shah of MedImmune

Ambarish Shah, Senior Manager and Principal Scientist at MedImmune Inc., presented the final Professional Development Seminar talk hosted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) on July 28. Shah’s presentation included an overview of the Biopharmaceutical industry and offered an insider’s perspective on how MedImmune manages the process of protein drug development.

Shah stated that “success in your careers will not only depend on how well you master the scientific principles in theory but more so how you apply them innovatively,” impressing upon students the value of applying science to solving practical problems. In addition, he stressed the acquisition of “soft skills” along with science, such as people skills and networking. Shah stressed the importance of protecting one’s intellectual property, as well as the safety and efficacy of a product. Despite the risks and costs, he urged students to always remember the altruistic purpose behind their work, cautioning: “don’t get attached to projects, get attached to science.”

Due to the fact that new research in the field is presented at technical conferences or published in peer reviewed journals, scientists tend to speak in technical terms that are too complex for the general public to understand. Shah stated that the field is missing “the clarity in linking what we do scientifically in our labs to the tangible benefits the general public end user will see, and a good forum to share it in.”

Shah offered students insight in understanding career development, stating that career success comes from a combination of many good personal attributes such as clarity of communication, willingness to a make a persistent effort, teamwork, and of course an analytical problem solving mind (all of these which can be learned through deliberate practice). Most importantly he advised students that “Grades and publications matter, but just to get the first job. After the first job, the only thing that matters is demonstrated results.”

Shah received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Mercer University in 1998, a Master of Science from Duquesne University, and a Bachelor of Pharmacy from Bombay University in India. He has been in the field for over twelve years and is currently the Principal Scientist/Group leader for MedImmune’s Dept. of Formulation Sciences in Gaithersburg, Md.

Story by Sarah Gubara, Senior, Psychology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Postdocs share how they manage work-life balance at July 14 INBT seminar

The life of a researcher can be hectic and complex. Add to that the responsibilities of family, friends, and the career and needs of a spouse or partner, even children, and it could spell trouble. Eric Balzer, Zev Binder, Daniele Gilkes and Sam Walcott, all postdoctoral fellows associated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, will conduct a panel discussion highlighting the challenges of balancing work and family on July 14 at 11 a.m. in 234 Ames. The discussion is part of INBT’s professional development seminars. RSVP to Ashanti Edwards, This talk is free and open to all faculty, staff and students.

For more information visit

Beyond academia and industry

Penelope Lewis, acquisitions editor at the American Chemical Society, spoke at the summer’s second Professional Development Seminar hosted by The Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) on June 30 at 11 a.m. in Maryland Hall 110.

Penelope Lewis, acquisitions editor at the American Chemical Society (Photo: Mary Spiro)

Lewis discussed her experience as a scientist making the transition to non-profit, scholarly publishing.

As a PhD candidate, she felt she had only two options: academia or industry. She cautioned against having “too much of a single-minded focus,” as students can get “wrapped up in studying or getting stuck in the lab.” Lewis stressed the importance of having a broad outlook and being involved in a variety of activities to know where one’s true skills and interests lie.

Penelope Lewis advocated for an interactive and investigative approach to understanding career development: “My main piece of advice is to keep your eyes and ears open when considering different careers.” Academic publishing allowed Lewis to combine her interest in writing (she minored in English) with her love of science.

“Being able to communicate your research findings and their significance is such a critical skill. It is necessary not only for securing grants and publishing papers, but also as part of a responsibility that scientists and engineers have to act as good ambassadors for science, and to transfer their excitement and understanding to the public. This is especially important in newer fields like nanotechnology,” she said.

Penelope Lewis has a BS in Chemistry (English Minor) from Indiana University, a Chemistry PhD from Pennsylvania State University, and was a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University.

For more information about INBT’s professional development seminars, click here.

Story by Sarah Gubara, Senior, Psychology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Melissaratos opens INBT summer seminar series, June 16

Aris Melissaratos, senior advisor to the president for enterprise development at Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer, will speak at the summer’s first Professional Development Seminar hosted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) on June 16 at 11 a.m. in Maryland Hall 110.

A Hopkins’ electrical engineering graduate (‘66), Melissaratos will discuss the importance of technology on academic development and how it affects the standard of living, opportunities of the future, and solves global discrepancies. Melissaratos claims that he has “lots of warnings and advice” to offer, in addition to the benefit of “50 years of industry” experience.

Wednesday’s talk will include excerpts and topics from his new book, Innovation: The Key to Prosperity—Technology and America’s Role in the 21st Century Global Economy, cowritten with N.J Slabbert, which focuses on the translation side of the industry and how to transfer technology. The book “reveals America’s greatest wealth: its scientific and inventive ingenuity” and discusses how to harness and utilize that wealth for its full potential.

Melissaratos is a whiz at developing and financing a product and creating a business around a product. A true product of a research institute, Melissaratos” book “reminds us of the power and adventure of human intelligence,” wrote Gilbert F. Decker, former Science Advisor to the US Secretary of Defense in a review of the book. Topics to look forward to include: redeveloping the American economy to regain supremacy, upping our competitive edge in the global economy, and making up for our country’s lost manufacturing base with research.

Melissaratos has previously served as the vice president of science and technology and chief technology officer at Westinghouse Electronics corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh. He left to join state government in 2003 as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. His list of impressive credentials include holding the vice presidency title at Thermo Electron Corp., founding Armel Private Equity Investments, founding the Greater Baltimore Technology Council (co-chair), and serving as vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Four seminars will be held this summer. To attend any of INBT’s Professional Development Seminars, RSVP to Ashanti Edwards at

For more information: INBT Professional Development Seminar Series, The Aris Institute

Story by Sarah Gubara, Senior, Psychology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

INBT welcomes 16 summer nanobio research interns

For 10 weeks this summer, 16 students from universities across the country will join the highly competitive Johns Hopkins Institute for Nanobiotechnology (INBT) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). The internship is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is supported and administered by INBT.

This is the third year of INBT’s REU program, and this group represents the institute’s largest group. Students are being mentored by faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in INBT affiliated laboratories across Hopkins. At the end of the 10-week research program, they will present their findings at a university-wide collaborative research poster session held with other summer interns from across several divisions.

In November 2009, NSF reported that over the last decade 10 times more white students will have earned doctoral degrees in science and engineering disciplines than minority students. Acknowledging this fact yet resolving not to accept it as status quo, INBT has employed aggressive measures to increase the number of individuals from underrepresented groups who apply to its educational programs.

“The nanobiotechnology REU has been one of the most successful and popular programs for INBT,” says Ashanti Edwards, senior education program coordinator for the institute. “The program has consistently attracted the best and the brightest students interested in research from top universities across the nation. The REU program was launched as a conduit to attract highly talented and motivated research students to pursue academic careers in research, particularly women and minority scholars. The program is highly competitive. For summer 2010, the number of applicants for the 10 slots in the program rose to nearly 500, twice what it had been the year before.”

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology Summer REU Students. (Photos by Mary Spiro)

INBT’s summer 2010 REU students include pictured from top to bottom, from left to right:

Top row

Joshua Austin, computer science and math major from UMBC, is working with Jeff Gray, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Mary Bedard, biochemistry and Spanish major from Elon University, is working with J.D. Tovar, assistant professor of chemistry, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Kameron Black, neuroscience major from the University of California, Riverside, is working in the lab of Ted Dawson, professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

Obafemi Ifelowo, who majors in molecular biology, biochemistry and bioinformatics at Towson University, is working with Jordan Green, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, School of Medicine.

Second row

Alfred Irungu, mechanical engineering major at UMBC, is working with German Drazer, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Ceslee Montgomery, human biology major from Stanford University, is working in the lab of Doug Robinson, associate professor of cell biology, School of Medicine.

Makeda Moore, biology major from Alabama A & M University, is working with Sharon Gerecht, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Christopher Ojeda, biomedical engineering major from New Jersey Institute of Technology, is working in the lab of Michael Yu, assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Third row

Katrin Passlack, mechanical engineering and kinesiology major at the University of Oklahoma, is working with Jeff Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Roberto Rivera, chemical engineering major from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, is working in the lab of Nina Markovic, associate professor of physics, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

D. Kyle Robinson, bioengineering major from Oregon State University, is working in the lab of Denis Wirtz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Whiting School of Engineering. In addition, Kyle is the first REU intern for Johns Hopkins new Engineering in Oncology Center, of which Wirtz is director.

Russell Salamo, biology major from the University of Arkansas, is working with Kalina Hristova, associate professor of materials science and engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Bottom row

Quinton Smith, major in chemical engineering with a bioengineering concentration from the University of New Mexico, is working with Sharon Gerecht, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

David To, chemistry major from Wittenberg University, is working with assistant professor Hai-Quan Mao in the department of materials science and engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Alan Winter, biology systems engineering major from Kansas State University, is working with Professor Peter Searson in the department of materials science and engineering, Whiting School of Engineering. Searson is the director of INBT.

Mary Zuniga, biology major a Northern Arizona University, is working in the lab of David Gracias, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Whiting School of Engineering.

Related Links:

Johns Hopkins NanoBio Research Experience for Undergraduates

NanoBio Magazine premieres at INBT annual symposium

INBT launches new annual magazine.

As attendees arrived at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health for the Institute for NanoBioTechnology’s (INBT) fourth annual symposium on April 29, they received the first edition of NanoBio Magazine. The new 32-page publication, which served as both the symposium program and as an attractive way to highlight some of INBT’s research in a more comprehensive way, will be published annually.

NanoBio Magazine, produced under the direction of INBT science writer Mary Spiro and INBT web director Martin Rietveld, showcases articles and photography about the institutes’s research, educational, corporate partnership and outreach programs. Articles were written by INBT staff, as well as students from the science communications course taught by Spiro each January during intersession. Photography came  from students who have participated in INBT supported educational programs, INBT staff, and from affiliated faculty members. The graphic design was created by Y.L. Media, LLC. of Baltimore.

“The magazine represents, in a creative and artistic way, the highly interdisciplinary spirit that is a fundamental mission of INBT,” Spiro said. “It was truly a collaborative effort that pulled content from our affiliated faculty and students  in every division and at every academic level that INBT serves. I hope people will learn what INBT is all about by reading it.”

Printed copies of NanoBio Magazine are available upon request by contacting Mary Spiro at Or, download a PDF version of NanoBio Magazine here:  nanobio-magazine_fordownload

Andrew Wong and Noah Tremblay peruse the first issue of NanoBio Magazine. (Photo by Charli Dvoracek/INBT)

EOC leader Gregg Semenza wins Canada Gairdner Award

Gregg Semenza

Gregg Semenza, associate director of Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center (EOC), has been named among seven 2010 winners of Canada’s international prize for medical research–the Canada Gairdner Award. The award is among the most prestigious for medical research and comes with a $100,000 cash prize.

The Canada Gairdner Award recognized Semenza for his work on how cells respond to oxygen availability in the body. He was the first to identify and describe hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1), which switches genes on or off in response to oxygen levels.

Semenza leads a research project related to this topic for EOC with Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Their work focuses on analyzing the makeup and physical properties of the extracellular matrix, the three-dimensional scaffold in which cells live.

“Normal cells live in a flexible scaffold, but cancer cells create a rigid scaffold that they climb through to invade normal tissue,” Semenza said. “We will study how this change occurs and how it is affected by the amount of oxygen to which cancer cells are exposed. Our studies have shown that cancer cells are deprived of oxygen, which incites them to more aggressively invade the surrounding normal tissues where oxygen is more plentiful. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 controls the responses of cancer cells to low oxygen, and we have recently identified drugs that block the action of HIF-1 and inhibit tumor growth in experimental cancer models.”

Semenza is the C. Michael Armstrong Professor in Medicine and founding director of the Vascular Biology program at  Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering at the School of Medicine. He also is a member of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, is an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, and has ties to the Department of Biological Chemistry and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, both at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center, launched October 2009, is one of 12 funded by the National Cancer Institute to bring a new cadre of theoretical physicists, mathematicians, chemists and engineers to the study of cancer. During the five-year initiative, the NCI’s Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OC) will take new, nontraditional approaches to cancer research by studying the physical laws and principles of cancer; evolution and evolutionary theory of cancer; information coding, decoding, transfer and translation in cancer; and ways to deconvolute cancer’s complexity.

Read more about Gregg Semenza winning the Canada Gairdner Award in the Johns Hopkins Gazette story by Audrey Huang here.

Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center

Poster presenters needed for symposium on environmental, health impacts of nanotech

2009 INBT Poster Session (Photo: Jon Christofersen)

Poster titles are now being accepted for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology’s fourth annual symposium, “Environmental and Health Impacts of Engineered Nanomaterials” set for Thursday, April 29, at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers from across the university, from government and industry, and from other universities are invited to submit posters by the deadline of April 22.

All students, faculty and staff affiliated with any Johns Hopkins campus or school may attend the symposium for free. Students from UMBC and Morgan State University may also attend at no cost.

This year’s symposium brings together faculty experts engaged in various aspects of nanotechnology risk assessment and management research. Jonathan Links, an INBT-affiliated professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, assembled the slate of speakers from across four divisions of the university.

Links said that this diversity reflects the multidisciplinary approach needed to effectively address questions of how nanomaterials move through and interact with the environment, and how they may impact biological organisms, including humans. Links added that despite some concerted efforts to assess risk, many questions remain unanswered about how engineered nanomaterials and nanoparticles impact human health and the environment.

“Without these data, we are flying blind. But when risk assessment is performed in tandem with research into beneficial applications, it helps researchers make better decisions about how nanotechnology is used in the future,” Links said.

Along with Links, professors from the Bloomberg School presenting talks at the symposium include Ellen Silbergeld, of Environmental Health Sciences, and Patrick Breysse, of Environmental Health Engineering and Environmental Health Sciences. William P. Ball, a professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering; Justin Hanes, a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, with joint appointments in the Whiting School’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences; and Howard Fairbrother, a professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, will talk about the transport of nanomaterials through environmental and biological systems, as well as the unusual properties of manufactured nanomaterials.

Tomas Guilarte, recently appointed chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a former professor at the Bloomberg School, will provide a presentation on neurotoxicity of nanoparticles. Ronald White, an associate scientist and deputy director of the Bloomberg School’s Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute, will discuss policy implications based on risk assessment.

Symposium talks will be from 8:30 a.m. until noon in Sheldon Hall (W1214), and a poster session, with prizes for top presenters, will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Feinstone Hall (E2030).

To register for the symposium or to display a poster, click here.

For more information about INBT’s fourth annual symposium, click here.

Story by Mary Spiro