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.

 

My life as an undergraduate researcher

I joined the Denis Wirtz Lab in the Institute for NanoBioTechnology the summer after my freshman year. I was nervous to start in a lab with such brilliant scientists, but everyone was really welcoming and friendly. After observing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the lab, I was given my own project. I had free rein to design the protocol and figure out how to analyze the data.

Katherine Tschudi. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

Katherine Tschudi. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

At first, it was difficult, but working through this and the inevitable obstacles that came made me a better researcher and scientist. I am incredibly grateful for this experience as a senior as I look back and see how the Wirtz Lab has helped me grow professionally and academically.

As a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major at Hopkins, we study how different physical, chemical, and biological processes work. In Wirtz Lab, I have had the opportunity to see this in action. Through my two years, I’ve looked at the differences in cell proliferation and motility for metastatic and primary cancer cells. I learned how to ask the right questions, how to think critically about data, and how to solve problems. Using the skills from Wirtz Lab, I also had the amazing opportunity to research abroad in Switzerland at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

In February 2014, I will be starting a job at Genentech, and I give a lot of credit to the great undergraduate research experience I’ve had in INBT. If you want to read more about my research experiences, I wrote a blog for Hopkins Admissions during my years at Hopkins and have around six posts detailing my experience.

Click here to read Kate’s six blog entires about working in the Wirtz Lab at Hopkins-Interactive.

Kate Tschudi earned her degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in December 2013. She is just one of the many undergraduate students who have benefitted by participating in undergraduate research in an INBT affiliated laboratory. Johns Hopkins University, founded as a research institute, emphasizes undergraduate research experiences, and more than half of the undergraduates participate in research projects at some point during their academic careers here.  Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology actively supports undergraduate research opportunities and in an informal way helps match students to projects in laboratories of affiliated faculty members. 

Related Links:

Wirtz Lab

 

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.

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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.

‘Fast Forward’ talk today on tech transfer with Jim Stefansic

FastForward

The 2013 FastForward Entrepreneurship Speaker Series launches Thursday, Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.  with a lecture by Jim Stefansic, a 1994 Johns Hopkins University alumnus from the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

What: “Founding Pathfinder Therapeutics: From Technology Transfer to Venture Capital to Market”

When: 4 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 12. Free parking and shuttles leaving every 10 minutes from Mason Hall

Where: Stieff Silver Building

Stefansic served as co-founder and CEO of Pathfinder Therapeutics, Inc., a Nashville-based medical device company. He was instrumental in raising more than $17 million in venture capital and SBIR funding as well as bringing Pathfinder’s product to market.

Today Stefansic serves as director of commercialization at Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership focused on the development of regional high-growth companies. Stefansic received his BS degree in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, and his MBA from Belmont University, where he is an adjunct professor of business.

Picture this: Transcription ‘twists’ toward metastasis

Mol Cancer Res Cover (1)

Molecular Cancer Research Cover

Researchers associated with Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and School of Public Health have published “The Twist Box Domain Is Required for Twist1-induced Prostate Cancer Metastasis,” in a recent issue of the journal Molecular Cancer Research. An illustration related to the work graced the cover.

Authors on the paper include co-lead authors Rajendra P. Gajula and Sivarajan T. Chettiar,  as well as Russell D. Williams, Saravanan Thiyagarajan, Yoshinori Kato, Khaled Aziz, Ruoqi Wang, Nishant Gandhi, Aaron T. Wild, Farhad Vesuna, Jinfang Ma, Tarek Salih, Jessica Cades, Elana Fertig, Shyam Biswal, Timothy F. Burns, Christine H. Chung, Charles M. Rudin, Joseph M. Herman, Russell K. Hales, Venu Raman, Steven S. An and corresponding author Phuoc T. Tran

Here is an abstract of their paper and caption for the cover:

“Twist1 plays key roles during development and is a master transcriptional regulator of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition that promotes cancer metastasis. We demonstrated three important findings in prostate cancer cells that overexpress Twist1: (1) Twist1 leads to elevated cytoskeletal stiffness and traction forces at the migratory edge of cell collections; (2) The Twist box domain is required for Twist1-induced pro-metastatic in vitro properties and in vivo metastases; and (3) Hoxa9 is a novel Twist1 transcriptional target that is required for Twist1-induced pro-metastatic phenotypes. Targeting the Twist box domain and Hoxa9 may effectively limit prostate cancer metastatic potential.”

Visit the journal here: Molecular Cancer Research 

 

Veltri presents PS-OC hosted talk on digital pathology and prostate cancer

Robert Veltri, associate professor Of Urology and Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Director of the Fisher Biomarker Biorepository Laboratory, will  present the talk Quantitative Histomorphometry of Digital Pathology: Case study in prostate cancer,” to members of the Denis Wirtz Lab and the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center on Monday, December 9 at 2 p.m. in Croft G40 on the Homewood campus. Seating is limited.

veltri

Robert Veltri

Veltri studies the biomarkers for prostate and bladder cancer and is collaborating on applications of Quantitative Digital Image Analysis (QDIA) using microscopy to quantify nuclear structure and tissue architecture. Collaborations include Case Western Reserve University biomedical engineering and the University of Pittsburgh Electrical Engineering departments studying to assess cancer aggressiveness in prostate cancer (PCa). Furthermore,  he is studying the application of molecular biomarkers for prostate (CaP) and bladder cancer (BlCa) detection and prognosis. Veltri’s work is funded by the National Cancer Institute’s PS-OC program grant), Early Detection Research Network (EDRN), and the Department of Defense related to research on Active Surveillance for PCa. He is also a co-investigator on a SBIR-I and II grant studying the application of microtransponders to multiplex molecular urine and serum biomarker testing for CaP.  Veltri has authored over 152 scientific publications and is either inventor or co-inventor on over twenty patents and two trademarks.

Official INBT undergraduate organization formed

students-chattingUndergraduate students affiliated with Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology has now become an official university group. The group’s goal is to create an environment for undergraduate researchers to get to know people, from different labs within INBT. The group will host events that will help students learn more about life after college as well as give members a chance to network and get to know one another.

To join the group, follow this link.

2013 Annual Meeting of American Institute of Chemical Engineers highlights NanoBio research

The 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) was held November 3-8 in San Francisco, CA. AIChE, the professional society for chemical engineers, hosted over 5,000 participants at the meeting, the largest AIChE conference yet. The conference offered great opportunities for learning about all aspects of chemical engineering and networking with movers and shakers from both academia and industry. I attended the conference and was one of several INBT-affiliated researchers to present my work, along with Kimberly Stroka (Konstantopoulos lab), Wei-Chiang Chen (Wirtz lab), and Pei-Hsun Wu (Wirtz lab). It was a great time to catch up with colleagues, and I met up with my undergraduate research advisor, friends from college, and past colleagues from Hopkins who have moved on to other institutions.

SanFrancisco-Annual2013-574-ssk_14602486The fascinating thing about the AIChE Annual Meeting is the wide variety of topics covered. The diversity of fields studied in chemical engineering has long been a source of pride for ChemE’s. I attended sessions covering topics as disparate as protein engineering, membrane separations, biosensors, industrial pharmaceuticals production, and cell migration, all while missing out on sessions about teaching, chemical engineering and the law, catalysis, and oil production. I was especially interested in research presented by industry professionals. These presentations gave me a new appreciation for the scope of industrial research projects, where changing one variable in a test tank can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Overall, the large number of sessions held at the conference provides great opportunities for students to give oral presentations, and undergraduate and graduate poster sessions enable even more students to publicize their projects. I would highly recommend the Annual Meeting for graduate and undergraduate chemical engineering students.

Colin Paul is a fourth-year PhD student in the laboratory of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

 

Cui featured speaker for Society of Biomaterials talk on nano

Join the Society for Biomaterials for their last meeting of the semester today, December 4 at 5 p.m. in Maryland Hall room 109 on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. Honggang Cui, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will present “How Nano Impacts Medicine.” Refreshments will be served. Cui is an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Here is an abstract for Dr. Cui’s talk:

honggangcui2-7-13-web

Honggang Cui

From the dawn of civilization, humans have recognized the therapeutic effect of some natural herbs, and the use of plants as therapeutic agents is a long-standing practice throughout the human history. However, the major advance in medicine did not start until the mid-19th century when the active compounds could be actually isolated, purified and identified. The identification of the active compound and its pharmacophore allows not only for the administration of drugs with a known dose, but more importantly for the synthesis of modified drugs with improved efficacy.

Nowadays, modern pharmacology has become part of our daily living, greatly improving the quality of life and transforming the way we live. However, there are still many incurable diseases, such as cancer, that medicine has yet to provide a solution. The emergence of nanotechnology as a field in 1980s has impacted many scientific disciplines including medicine. In particular, nanotechnology-based medicine has entered clinical use over the past two decades.

Can nano help provide a revolutionary solution to cancer? And how could the uses of nano improve the current clinical practice in cancer treatments? This lecture will provide a brief overview of the impact that nanotechnology could have on medicine.

 

 

 

Biotech and pharma are possible jobs paths for chemical engineers

Upon graduation, one main avenue to pursue for a job is one within industry. As a chemical engineer whose research is focused on cancer cell biology and cell mechanics, I’ve found that there at least two major branches of industry that would suit me and others doing similar work. These are biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology companies include Novo Nordisk, Amgen and Genentech and many others. These companies aim to meet healthcare needs by providing medication for disease treatment or novel technology for diagnostics.

industryChemical engineers have the skills to work anywhere from research and development to product quality and production by utilizing skills we have attained from both the classroom and research environment to address the needs of the company. Biotech scientist jobs not only provide exciting research opportunities, but are ranked one the best jobs in America by CNN because of their high job security, future growth, flexibility and pay.

Another sector of industrial opportunities is within the pharmaceutical industry. Major pharma companies include Johnson and Johnson, Eli Lilly, Novartis and Sanofi Aventis. These companies meet healthcare needs through the design and development of medications and drugs for a wide variety of illness and diseases. Although imbued with exciting opportunities, recent jobs cuts have threatened the job security within the pharmaceutical industry, with thousands of jobs cuts in Merck, Novartis and others. This has mostly been due to consolidation and loss of patents.

Still, the pharmaceutical and biotech industry remain among the most desirable aspects of industrial work and are great places for job opportunities for those with engineering and science training.

Ivie Aifuwa is a third year Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering  in the Denis Wirtz Lab, studying the interplay between cancer and aging.