Boarding the research bandwagon

The story of how I joined Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) is actually one of those moments where it just hits you – Why haven’t I thought about doing this before? It started with me being back at home during the winter of my sophomore year, meeting friends of my parents and answering the most common question: Where do you study? One of the reactions that stuck with me the whole night was “Wow, how does it feel to be in the center of the most cutting-edge research?” This made me realize how I’d been oblivious to one of the things I would love to get involved in.

Better one and a half years late than never, I decided to join the research bandwagon as well. I started going through the profiles of labs on Homewood campus, looking for a topic that would make me want to be there in lab every free minute during the year. I finally found one that sparked my curiosity: the Denis Wirtz Lab. Dr. Wirtz is the Smoot Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and also the University’s Vice Provost for Research.

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Working in the lab!

Though at the time most of the stuff I read about the Wirtz lab went over my head, I knew that cancer was something I had always wanted the world to be rid of. Seeing near and dear ones succumb to it was one of the most excruciating things which I wanted no one to experience in the future. Fascinated by the approach taken by Dr. Wirtz, I shot him off an email and to my amazement, I got an email back within the hour, “Sent to my grad students, look forward to working with you. d”. The next day I was scheduled to be back in Baltimore, and the day after that, I was a part of Wirtz lab.

During my training, I remember asking one of my peers “How in the world can I remember all these procedures, let alone do them?” She simply smiled and said, “You’ll see”. In a few weeks, I found myself doing those very procedures, one step after another as if it were a reflex action. I would most definitely attribute me being able to do this to my grad student Hasini Jayatilaka (don’t kill me for calling you out!). At the end of the day, what I felt it boiled down to, was realizing that the person I work for was in the same shoes five-seven years ago as I was now, and she wouldn’t expect anything unrealistic out of me. Once you embrace the challenge ahead, knowing that there is no need to be intimidated, you’re good to go.

The best part of being involved in research, apart from the work you do, is sitting in class in a lecture hall and suddenly tune in to the professor talking about something that you do in lab each day. That moment cements your understanding of why you did what you’ve been doing for so many days, it connects the dots in your mind, and that moment is when you’ve completed the full circle between theory and practice.

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Our team at a poster presentation over the summer.

For me personally, having to come to lab got me into a disciplined schedule. I had a fixed time for all days of the week now to wake up (which for me used to be the latest possible time before), since if I had no morning classes, I was in lab. It helped me a lot with my time management skills, with me cutting down on TV shows and sporadic naps. To my surprise, it did not affect the amount of time I spent with my friends, as the reduction in TV shows and naps was (extremely) disturbingly enough to keep every other aspect of my daily schedule the same. Being surrounded in lab by people in similar academic disciplines also gets me a ton of advice on classes. It’s like my own little “rate-my-professor” that encourages me to definitely take some class if it is “the best class I will take at Hopkins”. At times, it’s also a ‘learning den’ where I can get help with classes if I need to. Getting involved in a research lab also came with social outings with the team, with our dinners enabling us to get to know each other on a more personal level. I feel that this in a big way contributed to the chemistry we have while working with each other, made us comfortable spending time with each other at work.

At this point, after nine exciting months, including a fully lab-packed summer, I feel that this continues to be one of the best decisions I made so far. I do not regret being here every day, but take pride in saying “I need to be in lab”. One of the most cherished take-away for me is developing a sense of accountability for my actions, which I feel is an important aspect in life. I would definitely encourage being involved in research while at Hopkins as you have nothing to lose but so much to gain.

Pranay Tyle, is a junior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering minoring in Economics, and hopes to one day manufacture low cost medicine accessible to those in dire need across the globe.

For all press inquiries regarding INBT, its faculty and programs, contact Mary Spiro, mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.

Cancer Nanotechnology theme of INBT’s symposium, May 12-13

The Denis Wirtz lab research centers on investigations of cell micromechanics, cell architecture, nuclear shape and gene expression. Shown are healthy mouse cells with flurorescent staining of the nucleus (blue) and microtubules (green) emanating from the microtubule organizing center (red). (Photo: Wirtz Lab/JHU)

Nanoscale tools developed by engineers have yet to be fully explored and exploited for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer. Nanotechnology for Cancer Medicine forms the focus of the fifth annual symposium for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT), May 12 and 13, 2011 at the university’s Homewood campus.

Friday, May 13 will feature a symposium with talks from a slate of faculty experts in nanotechnology, oncology, engineering and medicine. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. in Shriver Hall Auditorium.  A poster session begins at 1:30 p.m. upstairs in the Clipper Room showcasing research from INBT affiliated faculty laboratories across several Johns Hopkins University divisions. Past symposiums have attracted as many as 500 attendees and more than 100 research posters.

Keep checking INBT’s 2011 symposium page for updated information on speakers and more details on how to register and submit a poster title. The symposium and poster session are free for Johns Hopkins affiliated faculty, staff and students.

Keynote Speaker

Stephen B. Baylin is currently Deputy Director, Professor of Oncology and Medicine, Chief of the Cancer Biology Division and Director for Research, of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.For the last 20 years, Stephen Baylin has studied the role of epigenetic gene silencing in the initiation and progression of human cancer. He and his colleagues have fostered the concept that DNA hypermethylation of gene promoters, and associated transcriptional silencing, can serve as an alternative to mutations for producing loss of tumor suppressor gene function. They have described some of the classic genes involved, invented approaches to randomly screen the cancer genome for such genes and to demonstrate their functional role in cancer progression, helped begin unravel the molecular mechanisms responsible for the initiation and maintenance of the gene silencing, and worked to utilize all of their findings for translational purposes.  Baylin has authored or co-authored over 375 full-length publications on the above and other areas of cancer biology.

Stephen Baylin will present the keynote talk at the 2011 Johns Hopkins Nano-Bio Symposium

He has been a member of committees of the American Cancer Society and of National Institutes of Health, and his honors include a Research Career Development Award from NIH, the Edwin Astwood Lectureship of the Endocrine Society, the 2003 Jack Shultz Memorial Lecture in Genetics, Fox Chase  Cancer Center, The 2004 National Investigator of the Year Award from the National Cancer Institute SPORE program, the Jack Gibson Visiting Professorship, University of Hong Kong Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, The 2004 2nd Annual Sydney E. Salmon Lectureship in Translational Research, Arizona Cancer Center, the 2005 Shubitz Cancer Research Prize from the University of Chicago, and he currently holds the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Chair in Cancer Research at Johns Hopkins. Baylin is also recipient of the 2007 Woodward Visiting Professor, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the 2008 Raffaele Tecce Memorial Lecture, Trento, Italy, the 2008 The David Workman Memorial Award (jointly with Peter A. Jones, Ph.D.) from the Samuel Waxman Foundation, and the 2009 Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for Basic Cancer Research, also shared with Peter A. Jones, the 14th NCI Alfred G. Knudson Award in Cancer Genetics, and, most recently, the Nakahara Memorial Lecture prize at the 2010 Princess Takematsu  Symposium. Currently, he leads, with Peter Jones, the Epigenetic Therapy Stand up to Cancer Team.

Additional confirmed speakers for the 2011 INBT Symposium include:

  • Martin Pomper is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with a primary appointment in Radiology and secondary appointments in Oncology, Radiation Oncology, and Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, as well as Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Pomper co-directs Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE).
  • Anirban Maitra is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with appointments in Pathology and Oncology at Sol Goldman Pancreatic Research Center and secondary appointments in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering and the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine. Maitra co-directs Johns Hopkins Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center and is a project director in the CCNE.
  • Jin Zhang is an associate professor at Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with primary appointments in Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences and secondary appointments in Neuroscience, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
  • Hy Levitsky is a professor of Oncology, Medicine and Urology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Scientific Director of the George Santos Bone Marrow Transplant Program. Levitsky is a project director at the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE).
  • Gregory Longmore is a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Oncology Division, Molecular Oncology Section and the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology. Longmore is a project co-director at Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (PS-OC).
  • Denis Wirtz is the Theophilus H. Smoot Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Wirtz is associate director of INBT and director of the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, also known as the Engineering in Oncology Center. He has a secondary appointment in Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Workshops

During the afternoon of May 12, INBT will hold four 2-hour hands-on laboratory workshops organized by faculty affiliated with INBT, PS-OC or CCNE. Workshop registration will be limited to 10 persons per session. Sessions will begin at 1 and 3:30 p.m. and will be held in the New Engineering Building. Workshop details, including any costs, are forthcoming.

Become a sponsor

If you or your organization would like to learn how to sponsor INBT’s annual symposium, please contact our director of corporate partnerships, Tom Fekete, at tmfeke@jhu.edu or call him at 410-516-8891. Sponsors enjoy reduced rates on symposium-related events and advertising in our annual Nano-Bio magazine/symposium program, among other benefits.

Media inquiries may be directed to Mary Spiro, science writer and media relations director for INBT, at mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.