INBT to Fund Postdocs in NanoTech for Cancer Medicine

The Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University has been awarded a $1.6 million T-32 National Cancer Institute training grant to recruit two outstanding trainees every year with MD and/or PhD degrees and diverse backgrounds in either biochemistry, physics, molecular/cellular/cancer biology, or an engineering/physics discipline. Postdoctoral fellows will conduct research in nanotechnology for cancer medicine. Please check the Website of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology in the coming weeks for more details on this exciting opportunity and information about how to apply.

Hopkins NanoBioTech Director Named First Reynolds Professor

Picture of Peter Searson
Peter Searson. Credit: INBT / JHU

Peter Searson, professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology, has been named the inaugural Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor.

Searson’s research interests include the synthesis and characterization of nanostructured materials, electrodeposition and patterning, and applications for nanotechnology in biology and medicine. He led the launch of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology, which was established May 15, 2006 as a cross-divisional center with research interests in the basic sciences, engineering, medicine and public health. Searson joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 1990, having received his PhD in 1982 from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Joseph Reynolds earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins in 1969. He is the founder and CEO of RTI Consulting LLP, founded FTI Consulting Inc., is a university trustee, and is the current chair of the National Advisory Council. In making the gift of this professorship, Reynolds’ vision was to give the dean and the school the flexibility to select a recipient from any department in the Whiting School of Engineering.

For more information about the Searson Group go to

IGERT Student Profile: Lindsey Smith

To optimize the strength of materials and structures used in biomedical applications, one must apply the principles of mechanics. This can become a challenging task in these multiphysics settings, says Lindsey Smith, a second year doctoral student in civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Smith is a member of the NanoBio IGERT with the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Funded by the National Science Foundation, IGERT stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.

Smith’s interest in structures and engineering blossomed after taking a high school introductory course on the topic. “I was always strong in math and science,“ she says. “I also was fascinated with architecture and large buildings.“ Smith graduated in 2003 from Columbia University with a major in Engineering Mechanics, which she describes as the study of the application of mechanics to civil engineering. [Read more…]

Water: More Than Just a Drink

Faculty Profile: Dilip Asthagiri

To understand electrical activity of nerve cells, the Asthagiri Lab develops simulations that show selectivity of
channel proteins (in green) for potassium ions (in purple). Credit: Asthagiri Group / JHU

In his book “Life’s Matrix: A biography of water,“ author and Nature consulting editor Philip Ball declares that water is the “weirdest liquid.“ Dilip Asthagiri, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, would agree. “There are very many puzzling features in all of aqueous chemistry and biology,“ says Asthagiri, an affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. With a sub nanoscale diameter of about 3 Angstroms (0.3 nanometer), Asthagiri says, the water molecule is “more ‘nano’ than nano“ and an understanding of water is integral to this emerging science. [Read more…]

Gerecht’s Stem Cell Research Nets Outstanding Young Engineer Award

Picture of Sharon Gerecht
Sharon Gerecht. Credit: INBT / JHU

Assistant Professor Sharon Gerecht, an affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, recently earned the Maryland Academy of Science’s 2008 Outstanding Young Engineering (OYE) award. The OYE award recognizes the extraordinary scientific contributions of Maryland residents under the age of 35.

Gerecht studies how changes in micro- and nano-scale environment can affect the growth and function of stem cells with focus on vascular development and regeneration. Gerecht is looking at ways to direct stem cell differentiation by engineering different chemical, mechanical and physical environments upon which the cells grow. This may have implications on how stem cells could be used in medical therapy.

“I believe that we are now in a unique position in which we know more about stem cells, their isolation, characterization, and have a basic understanding of their biology,“ says Gerecht. “This enables us to integrate advanced microengineering tools to better control their behavior both in the lab and in the body after transplantation“

As part of her award, Gerecht received a $2,500 cash prize and the Allan C. Davis Medal, named for the former Science Center board chairman whose gift helped fund construction of the Davis Planetarium. The Maryland Science Center, located at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, is visited by more than 500,000 people each year.

Gerecht is the third INBT affiliated faculty member to be honored with an award from the Maryland Science Center. In 2007 David Gracias, also an assistant professor in the in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, received the OYE award. And in 2006, Anirban Maitra, associate professor of oncology and pathology at the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, was awarded the center’s Outstanding Young Scientist Award.

More about Gerecht’s research:

Mao Honored With Teaching Award

Hai-Quan Mao. Credit: Will Kirk / JHU

The Johns Hopkins Alumni Association annually recognizes university faculty who demonstrate superior skill in instruction with its Excellence in Teaching Awards. More than a dozen faculty members across JHU received the 2008 Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards, one of whom was Hai-Quan Mao, an affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The following was taken from a recent issue of the Johns Hopkins Gazette.

At the Head of the Class

Academic divisions honor their own with Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards

Excerpt from the Johns Hopkins Gazette, May 19, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 35

Hai-Quan Mao, Materials Science and Engineering

Hai-Quan Mao recalls his response last semester when one of his students botched the first part of a Thermodynamics of Materials midterm exam. “I was curious and a little upset because I had gone over the material with this student in a tutorial session,“ said Mao, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The student, among those who nominated Mao for the teaching honor, describes the event a bit differently. “I first realized that Dr. Mao was a unique teacher when, after the first day of the Thermodynamics midterm, he called me on my cell phone because he was ‘a little surprised that I did not answer all of the questions correctly,’ as we had conversed about the material several times prior,“ the student wrote on a nomination form. “He requested that I meet him in his office 10 minutes later, and we reviewed the first section of the exam.“

This story, the student said, had a happy ending: “Dr. Mao’s exceptionally sincere gesture to ensure that I understood all of my errors before the second part of the exam was successful,“ the student wrote. “I continued to perform well because of his help and ended up with an A in the challenging course.“

Mao was pleased to hear that his teaching is getting through to his students, particularly because English is not his first language. Mao was raised and educated in China and learned English in high school and college. “At the beginning, I was a little concerned about not communicating effectively with my students,“ Mao said. “That made me try harder in finding good ways to teach.“
His ties to Johns Hopkins go back to 1995, when he became a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He later spent four years conducting research at a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Singapore. In 2003, he joined the Whiting School faculty, focusing his research on the design, synthesis and application of polymeric materials for drug and gene delivery and tissue engineering.

Despite the demands of this research, he continues to maintain a close rapport with his students, fielding questions even outside of his regular office hours.

“I find it so hard to say no to students when they knock on the door, particularly those who are sincere to learn,“ Mao said. “But if you do a good job in class, the number of students knocking on the door will eventually go down.“

Story by Phil Sneiderman

Mao’s research interests include cell and tissue engineering, nanofibers, neural stem cells, gene delivery and polymer micelles. Learn more about research in the Mao Lab.

Nanotechnology for Cancer: INBT featured on CBS Evening News

George Sgouros, professor of radiology and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University, is one of the scientists featured on the CBS Evening News in a segment on nanotechnology for cancer. [Read more…]

Small Science Draws Big Crowd for Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium

Poster Session during the 2008 NanoBio Symposium at Johns Hopkins University. (left) Noy Bassik
(right) Jonathan Schneck. Credit: Will Kirk / JHU

A standing-room-only crowd packed Owens Auditorium of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center May 1 to hear how future cancer detection and treatment will involve tools and therapies designed at the scale of molecules and atoms. More than 500 people attended the annual NanoBio Symposium hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) on May 1 and 2 at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Along with Thursday’s Nanotechnology for Cancer workshop with 10 Hopkins faculty presenters, the symposium featured talks by distinguished speakers and a poster session representing nano-related research from several university divisions and beyond. [Read more…]

Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium Set for May 1-2: New workshop focuses on nanotechnology for cancer

2008 NanoBio Symposium. This year’s event will be held at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

All facets of research relating to the emerging discipline of nanobiotechnology—a science that operates at the scale of one-billionth of a meter—will be explored at the second annual Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium, May 1-2, 2008. This year’s event will be held at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. and is hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). [Read more…]

2008 NanoBio Symposium Preview: Paras Prasad

Picture of Paras Prasad
Paras Prasad. Speaker at the 2008 NanoBio symposium. Credit: Paras Prasad

Cancer can’t hide from light of nanobiophotonics

People reap the benefits of the harvesting of photons every day. Printers, DVD players, remote controls, lasers, sensors, and other similar devices all are based on photonics. But Paras Prasad, director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics (ILPB) at the University at Buffalo, says there is much more to learn about the interaction of light with materials and its role in biomedical research. Prasad will discuss this topic at the Johns Hopkins 2008 NanoBio Symposium on May 1-2, hosted by the Institute of NanoBioTechnology.

“Photonics, in a broad sense, deals with the emission, transmission, amplification, detection, modulation, and switching of light,“ says Prasad. Through this manipulation of light, scientists and engineers are using photonics to discover new ways to deal with problems such as the diagnosis and treatment of disease or the generation and storage of energy.

For example, researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics have developed special kinds of plastic-based nanocomposites that can be fabricated into many structures and designs, including more efficient and larger-scale solar panels to gather the sun’s energy over the entire spectrum, including ultraviolet and infrared.

“Such hybrid nanocomposites can be used to harvest solar energy from larger structures in the form of tents, panels and coatings,“ Prasad says. Patents in this area are on file and a California-based company is now working to develop its commercial applications.

Also exciting, Prasad says, are the scientific advances in areas that marry biology, nanotechnology and photonics—nanobiophotonics. At this interface of disciplines, scientists and engineers are breaking new ground in the realms of health care and medicine, he says.

For instance, Prasad says, funding from the National Cancer Institute supports a partnership between the UB institute and researchers at Hopkins to develop better ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer. Prasad’s group, together with teams lead by INBT affiliated faculty members Anirban Maitra of the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center and Martin Pomper at the In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center, are working on a project that “accelerates the advance of photonics and nanotechnology out of the lab and into the cancer clinic,“ he adds.

Pancreatic cancer is especially deadly, says Prasad, because survival rates are poor, even when a tumor is just barely observable at microscopic scales. Therefore early detection is critical to improve outcomes. The ILPB researchers have shown effective early detection of pancreatic cancer with quantum dots and metallic nanorods that have been conjugated with antibodies that specifically target pancreatic cells.

“We are developing diagnostic and treatment methods for pancreatic cancer that capitalize on our expertise in designing targeted hybrid ceramic-polymeric nanoparticles to better image pancreatic cancer in vivo and to deliver drugs more effectively to treat it,“ says Prasad. “It is very exciting to see that these photonic technologies developed at the University at Buffalo are being applied to a disease where the need for earlier detection and more effective treatment is so pressing.“

During his talk, Prasad also plans to highlight other nanobiophotonics research at ILPB including nanoparticles for photodynamic therapy of cancer and the use of nanoparticles in gene therapy particularly in the brain and liver. Prasad says these nanoparticles hold exciting prospects for developing new approaches for dealing with health care concerns with high societal impact, such as obesity, drug addiction and new infectious diseases.

Related Web site:

Story by Mary Spiro