Wireless Microgrippers Grab Living Cells in ‘Biopsy’ Tests

David Gracias, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, lead a team of researchers that developed tiny microgrippers that can be controlled by harmless chemicals and magnets. This tiny tool, which closes around an object like a hand, could be used to conduct minimally invasive biopsies. Experiments using the device were reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition for the week of Jan. 12-16). Several news outlets, including the July 13, 2009 issue of The New York Times and ScienceDaily.com featured stories on the mircrogrippers, as well as videos that demonstrated how it works.

Here is a link to the story as it appeared on Headlines@Hopkins: http://www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/home09/jan09/gracias.html.

Partnership puts Hopkins nanobio innovations and students to work

Picture of John SchmidtJohn C. Schmidt. Credit: Northrop Grumman.

INBT Industrial Affiliate: Northrop Grumman

Launching the careers of its students and finding the best application for the innovations developed in its laboratories are two top priorities for John Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). Toward this end, INBT builds relationships with industry through its mutually beneficial Industrial Affiliates Program, which engages students in challenging research and provides a potential marketing pipeline for technologies created in INBT labs. The nation’s third largest defense contractor, Northrop Grumman, has been an INBT Industrial Affiliate since the Institute was founded in May 2006. [Read more…]

Gerecht Stem Cell Research Featured in Jewish Times

Sharon Gerecht (left) and students. Credit: JHU

The Baltimore Jewish Times recently featured a Q&A with Israeli native Sharon Gerecht, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Gerecht uses nanotopographic surfaces to direct the differentiation of stem cells. An excerpt from the article follows:

What’s the focus of your research?

My focus is stem cells and regenerative medicine. The ultimate goal is developing therapeutics for blood vessel disorders. Blood vessels circulate blood to and from the heart and lungs. Vascular disorders are common, especially as people age, and in chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Have you had success?

We’ve had success in inducing the differentiation of stem cells to blood vessels. Now we are trying to mature these cells to function as a tissue.

In the lab, we use mostly a Petri dish. The body is more three dimensional. Different concerns include transport of oxygen to a tissue, gradients of growth factors, and the specific milieu the cells are grown in.

We have developed several biomaterials that encourage three-dimensional blood vessel growth. Currently, we are studying how stem cells respond to different properties of these biomaterials…

The entire article, written by Barbara Pash, was published in the November 28, 2008 print edition of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

For more information on Sharon Gerecht’s research, visit her INBT affiliated faculty page at http://inbt.jhu.edu/facultyexpertise.php?id=personalresult&usr=220

Bulte Wins EUREKA Grant to Develop Nano-based Imaging Tool

Picture of Jeff Bulte
Jeff Bulte. Credit: JHU

Jeff W.M. Bulte, professor of radiology, biomedical engineering, and chemical & biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, recently won the National Institutes of Health’s new EUREKA grant. (EUREKA stands for Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration.) Bulte was one of 38 U.S. scientists to earn the distinction. Bulte will receive $200,000 per year for four years from NIH and will direct the funds to develop a new technique called magnetic particle imaging (MPI) as a means of visualizing transplanted stem cells in the brains of animals with stroke. Bulte is an affiliated faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and Director of the Cellular Imaging Section in the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering. [Read more…]

IGERT student profile: Jacob Koskimaki

Picture of Jacob Koskimaki
Jacob Koskimaki. Credit: Mary Spiro/JHU

Blood flow gives life to both normal and cancerous tissues. Cutting off cancer cells from their blood supply through drugs that prevent blood vessel growth can control tumor growth. Jacob Koskimaki is a third year biomedical engineering graduate student with the NanoBio IGERT* at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). He uses bioinformatics techniques to search for proteins that are antiangiogenic—meaning that they inhibit blood vessel growth. Koskimaki works in the systems biology lab of Aleksander Popel, biomedical engineering professor at the School of Medicine and an INBT affiliated faculty member.

“These proteins have several therapeutic advantages in that they are naturally occurring in the body, so they have low toxicity and can be reproduced synthetically,“ Koskimaki says. He uses a systematic searching technique to data mine the human genome maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information called BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool). BLAST can compare the sequences of proteins known to halt the growth of blood vessels to the protein sequences of domains that are not yet known to be antiangiogenic. This method has helped discover new protein fragments with antiangiogenic properties. The resulting fragments are then experimentally applied to several disease models as novel treatments for lung and breast cancer. (This is a continuation of the research by a former PhD student in the Popel lab Emmanouil Karagiannis, now a postdoc at MIT).

“There has been a lot of interest in finding antiangiogenic compounds,“ Koskimaki says, “and a lot of money has been invested leading to several promising treatments.“ For example, he adds, the drug Avastin was the first FDA approved anti-angiogenic drug. When used in conjunction with chemotherapy, Avastin can extend a patient’s life by blocking angiogenic growth factors and halting tumor progression.

Koskimaki also collaborates with Zaver Bhujwalla, radiology professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Bhujwalla develops noninvasive imaging techniques to understand cancer. She also directs the In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center (ICMIC). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) they can understand important characteristics of peptide-treated tumors such as blood vessel permeability and volume.

Koskimaki traveled many academic paths before setting his sights on science. He began college as a piano performance major at the University of Utah, but was drawn to the technical aspects of biomedical engineering. In addition, he double majored in economics seeking to obtain a broad perspective. Koskimaki explains, “science funding and research are inherently linked to the larger economic landscape, and knowledge of economics is a great asset to any research career.“ During his biomedical engineering studies, he researched the mechanical properties of the glycocalyx, the outer coating of the cell membrane. His positive experiences, along with his interest in developing novel therapeutics lead him to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.

Always interested in trends and politics, Koskimaki could see himself pursuing careers in industry, academia, or writing. He recently began working as a science writing intern for the Institute for Nanobiotechnology and is looking for other opportunities to write. He also enjoys traveling and spent two weeks in India this fall.

*IGERT, which stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, is a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

For more information on the INBT IGERT program, go to http://inbt.jhu.edu/igert.php

To learn more about the research of the Popel Lab, go to http://inbt.jhu.edu/facultyexpertise.php?id=personalresult&usr=179

For more information on ICMIC and Dr. Bhujwalla, go to http://icmic.rad.jhmi.edu/index.cfm?section=home

Story by Mary Spiro

Tiny Protein Provokes Healthy Bonding Between Cells

Atomic Force Microscopy. Credit: Wirtz Lab/JHU

Absence of this biological ‘spark’ linked to cancer’s spread

In human relationships, a certain “spark” often governs whether we prefer one person more than another, and critical first impressions can occur within seconds. A team lead by Johns Hopkins researchers has found that cell-to-cell “friendships” operate in much the same way and that dysfunctional bonding is linked to the spread of cancer. [Read more…]

Maitra’s Cancer Preventive Nano-Spice Featured on WJZ-TV

The spice, turmeric, contains a substance that has shown promise in the prevention and treatment of several diseases, including cancer. The only drawback is that the substance—curcumin—does not easily enter the bloodstream. Now, Anirban Maitra, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, has created tiny, nano-curcumin particles so small they can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach. Maitra was interviewed October 28, 2008 by Kellye Lynn of WJZ-TV in Baltimore.

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INBT Animation Studio: Using Animation to Explore the Nanoworld

Cross section of a Bcl-Xl protein attached to a lipid bilayer. Credit: Ammon Posey/Martin Rietveld/Hill Lab/JHU

Tiny self-assembling metal cubes dance across the screen in a video posted on the Web site of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). You could read a book—or at least several chapters—on the principles behind how these micro-cubes build themselves up from microscopic, metallic sheets cut by lasers. Or you could watch a one-minute animated video that tells their fantastic story. Most people will opt to watch the video, and now INBT is using animation to explain complex concepts of nanobiotechnology.

The video of the self-assembling cubes is the result of the independent study course Animation in Nanotechnology and Medicine and was produced under the guidance of INBT animation/web director Martin Rietveld. He shares his skills and experience in 2-D/3-D animation with students who sign up for the course and anyone who wants to learn to use this lively medium.

INBT’s animation studio and the independent study course has attracted students from the basic sciences and engineering, the School of Medicine’s Department of Art As Applied to Medicine and The Writing Seminars in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, to name a few. Some students understand the science; others are skilled in illustration or other types of visualization. “My job is to try to guide these forces into something that actually produces a movie,“ Rietveld says.

Students who sign up for the course should be aware of the time commitment involved in order to produce a film as well executed as the current productions, Rietveld says. Presently, there are two animated movies on the INBT Web site demonstrating the research of INBT affiliated faculty members. One explains the self-assembling cubes used in the research of David Gracias, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, and the other shows the interaction between a protein and a lipid bilayer, based on the work of Blake Hill, associate professor of biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Rietveld recommends that before students start the course, they should be somewhat familiar with animation software. Next, students learn about the science they intend to animate by interviewing the scientists and engineers engaged in the research. Students then shift their attention to production, storyboarding and animation. Eventually, they’ll do post-production and audio work. Projects are completed using INBT’s computers and software. For specific tasks, such as recording video and audio, INBT collaborates with the Digital Media Center and the Center for Educational Resources.

“It can take at least two semesters and students in the course are expected to put in at least 10 hours per week to complete a project,“ Rietveld says. The 3-credit independent study course does not necessarily adhere to a fixed schedule, so students need to have a lot of self-motivation, Rietveld adds.

“It takes a long time to produce something of quality (and) it is difficult to achieve this kind of artistic integrity while maintaining scientific accuracy,“ Rietveld says, “but that is why working in this kind of animation is challenging and fun.“

For more information on INBT’s animation studio or how to register for Animation in Nanotechnology and Medicine (EN 500.495/695), contact Martin Rietveld at rietveld@jhu.edu.


* Channel Forming Protein
* Self Assembling Cubes


* Department of Arts as Applied to Medicine
* Writing Seminars
* Digital Media Center
* Center for Educational Resources
* Animation in Nanotechnology and Medicine

Story by Mary Spiro

Students Lead NanoBio Retreat

Four student presentations, as well as talks by affiliated faculty members, and a poster session highlighted the Oct. 18, fall retreat for the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University. Student presenters included Janice Lin, W. Garrett Jenkinson, Ziqiu (Tommy) Tong and Lamia Wahba. Jenkinson, Lin, Tong, and Wahba are pre-doctoral fellows of INBT’s NanoBio IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship), funded by the National Science Foundation. The annual fall retreat gives students from INBT’s educational programs a chance to learn about one another’s research, hear presentations from INBT faculty experts, and network for potential collaborations. Michael Yu, associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering and INBT affiliated faculty member, gave the keynote presentation.

From left to right, Patrick Stahl, Adam Shelley and Janice Lin. Credit: Ashanti Edwards/JHU

Stephen Diegelmann talks with Alfredo Celedon during poster session at INBT’s fall retreat. Credit: Ashanti Edwards/JHU

Students presented research talks during INBT’s fall retreat. Credit: Ashanti Edwards/JHU

From left to right and from the back: Craig Copeland, Stephen Diegelmann, Terrence Dowbrowsky, Garrett Jenkinson, Peter Searson (INBT director), Jesse Placone, Adam Shelley, Patrick Stahl, Craig Schneider, Laura Ensign, Meghan Vellotti, Shyam Khatau, Denis Wirtz (INBT associate director/HHMI program director), Tommy Tong, Alfredo Celedon, Janice Lin, Matt Keuss, Lamia Wahba, Kate Stebe (IGERT program director), and Tania Chan Credit: Ashanti Edwards/JHU

Science Writing, Video Production Courses Tell Nanoscience Stories

Oxidized carbon nanotubes with sorbates. Credit: Ball Lab / JHU

The Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) at Johns Hopkins University strives to be integrative and multidisciplinary. With 170 faculty and more than two dozen graduate students and undergraduates with backgrounds as diverse as physics and computational medicine, the institute has sought to broaden skills and foster collaborations among its student body and its faculty members. That collaboration now extends to the relationship between science and the mass media through a course called Communication for Scientists and Engineers, which aims to give INBT’s graduate students hands-on experience in learning how to communicate complex ideas to non-technical audiences.

Spiro, course instructor and science writer for INBT, knows first hand the important relationship and possible misunderstanding that can occur between scientists and the media.

Scientific ideas, though important for the public to know, are sometimes hard to comprehend or may seem irrelevant to interests of the non-scientist, Spiro explains, and this can make it difficult to convey the significance of scientific investigation to those not engaged in it.

“On the other hand, journalists are looking for novel stories, are under tight deadlines and may have an inaccurate view of the length and complexity of the scientific process,” Spiro says. “Reporters want to hear about the next breakthrough.”

Although the course is not aimed at training INBT’s graduate students to work as reporters, the overall goal is for them to “gain an appreciation for the importance of communicating scientific ideas clearly and to learn a few tools to successfully do that,” she says. With her formal training as both a journalist and a scientist in mind, Spiro designed the course for science and engineering graduate students to understand the basic components of the media such as “learning how to write a press release, giving a press conference, and interviewing each other.”

Spiro taught a course in science writing for scientists and engineers during the January 2008 Intersession. In January 2009, she will teach a new course that focuses on communicating science through video production, requiring students to work in front of and behind the camera. Spiro hopes that in addition to the writing skills the students develop for communicating their ideas to the public, the focus on video in this new course will add a “different dimension to communicating science,” and highlight an additional medium that scientists can use to advance their scientific ideas to the public.

Public relations experts and media professionals also speak to the class. Guest speakers in 2008 included Davide Castelvecchi from Science News; Gail Porter, director of public and business affairs at the National Institute for Standards and Technology; and Joann Rodgers, director of Media Relations and Public Affairs for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Graduate students in INBT’s fellowship programs are required to take at least one of Spiro’s science communication courses, either the writing course or the video course. This training is considered part of their professional development training. A few of the student articles written during the 2008 science writing course have been posted to INBT’s Web site (see below). Spiro plans to have work produced during the course on video news releases to be posted by spring 2009.

Examples of student writing include:

* Water: More than just a drink.
* Nanoparticle clusters offer surprises for physical chemists.

Story by Jacob Koskimaki, INBT science writing intern and NanoBio IGERT fellow