Self-assembling drug molecules could fight cancer

A popular method of targeted drug delivery for anti-cancer drugs involves doping another material with the desired pharmaceutical to obtain better targeting efficiency to tumor sites. The problem with this method, researchers have discovered, is that the quantity of drug payload per delivery unit can vary widely and that the materials used for delivery can have toxic side effects.

But what if you could turn the drug molecule itself into a nanoscale delivery system, cutting out the middleman completely?

TEM image of nanotubes formed by self-assembly of an anticancer drug amphiphile. These nanotubes possess a fixed drug loading of 38% (w/w). Image from Cui Lab.

TEM image of nanotubes formed by self-assembly of an anticancer drug amphiphile. These nanotubes possess a fixed drug loading of 38% (w/w). Image from Cui Lab.

Using the process of molecular self-assembly, that is what Honggang Cui, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, is attempting to do. His efforts have netted him the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation. Cui, an affiliated faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, will receive the $500,000 award over five years.

Cui explained that a current method of delivering anti-cancer drugs is to enclose them in a nanoscale carrier made of natural or synthetic materials, but this method presents several challenges. “The amount of drug loaded per carrier is very much limited and varies from batch to batch. Even in the same batch, there is a drug loading variation from carrier to carrier. Additionally, the carrier material itself may have toxic side effects,” he said.

Cui’s research seeks to eliminate the need for the carrier by coaxing the drug molecules themselves to form their own carrier through the process of self-assembly. His team is developing new molecular engineering strategies to assemble anti-cancer drugs into supramolecular nanostructures.

“Such supramolecules could carry as much as 100 percent of the drug, would possess a fixed amount of drug per nanostructure and would minimize the potential toxicity of the carrier,” Cui said.

To learn more about research in the Cui lab go to http://www.jhu.edu/cui/

 

Hopkins’ Herrera-Alonso earns NSF CAREER award

Margarita Herrera-Alonso

Margarita Herrera-Alonso, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Herrera’s CAREER funding will support her goal of better understanding the structure and property relationships of new polymers inspired by nature.

Her research will enable these building blocks to be used in the context of other bio-inspired materials applications, such as drug carrier design. The CAREER Award recognizes the highest levels of excellence and promise in early-career scholars and teachers.

Herrera joined the Johns Hopkins University faculty in early 2010. She is an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. She earned her PhD in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Find out more about the projects the Herrera Group is working on at this website.

 

Engineers put a new ‘twist’ on lab-on-a-chip

Close-up of a cylindrically-shaped microfluidic device with two fluorescent solutions flowing through. Reproduced with permission from Nature Communications.

A leaf works something like a miniature laboratory. While the pores on the leaf surface allow it to channel nutrients in and waste products away from a plant, part of a leaf’s function also lies in its ability to curl and twist. Engineers use polymers to create their own mini-labs, devices called “labs-on-a-chip,” which have numerous applications in science, engineering and medicine. The typical flat, lab on a chip, or microfluidic device, resembles an etched microscopy cover slip with channels and grooves.

But what if you could get that flat lab-on-a-chip to self-assemble into a curve, mimicking the curl, twist or spiral of a leaf? Mustapha Jamal, a PhD student and IGERT fellow from Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, has created a way to make that so.

Jamal is the lead author on “Differentially photo-crosslinked polymers enable self-assembling microfluidics,” published November 8, 2011 in Nature Communications. Along with principle investigator David Gracias, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, and fellow graduate student Aasiyeh Zarafshar, Jamal has developed, for the first time, a method for creating three-dimensional lab-on-a-chip devices that can curl and twist.

The process involves shining ultraviolet (UV) light on a film of a substance called SU-8. Film areas closer to the light source become more heavily crosslinked than layers beneath, which on solvent conditioning creates a stress gradient.

Immersing the film in water causes the film to curl. Immersion in organic solvents like acetone causes the film to flatten. The curling and flattening can be reversed. The result, Jamal said, is the “self-assembly of intricate 3D devices that contain microfluidic channels.” This simple method, he added, can “program 2D polymeric (SU-8) films such that they spontaneously and reversibly curve into intricate 3D geometries including cylinders, cubes and corrugated sheets.”

Members of the Gracias lab have previously created curving and folding polymeric films consisting of two different materials. This new method achieves a stress gradient along the thickness of a single substance. “This provides considerable flexibility in the type and extent of curvature that can be created by varying the intensity and direction of exposure to UV light,” Gracias said.

Gracias explained that the method works with current protocols and materials for fabricating flat microfluidic devices. For example, one can design a 2D film with one type of lab-on-a-chip network, and then use their method to shape it into another geometry, also with microfluidic properties.

Fluorescent image of curved, self-assembled microfluidic device. Reproduced with permission from Nature Communications.

“Since our approach is compatible with planar lithography methods, we can also incorporate optical elements such as split ring resonators that have unique optical features. Alternatively, flexible electronic circuits could be incorporated and channels could be used to transport cooling fluids” Gracias said.

Tissue engineering is among the many important applications for 3D microfluidic devices, Gracias said. “Since many hydrogels can be photopolymerized, we can use the methodology of differential cross-linking to create stress gradients in these materials,” Gracias explained. “We plan to create biodegradable, vascularized tissue scaffolds using this approach.”

Link to the journal article here.

Story by Mary Spiro

 

 

Nanobio interns begin work in Hopkins labs

This week, 14 students from universities across the country began 10 weeks of laboratory work as part of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Nanobiotechnology (INBT) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded REU is supported and administered by INBT.

This is the fourth year INBT has hosted REU students, which pairs undergraduates with faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in laboratories across the Hopkins campuses. At the end of their research experience, students present their findings at a university-wide collaborative research poster session held with other summer interns from across several divisions. They also have a better understanding of what it takes to  be a full-time academic researcher.

Although all students are working in INBT affiliated laboratories, five students involved in the REU this summer will be specifically conducting research as part of Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (PS-OC). The PS-OC, also known as Johns Hopkins Enginering in Oncology Center, emphasizes the use of the physical sciences in the study of the spread and development of cancer. Three students will work in labs associated with the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE)

Another goal of the NSF-based program is to encourage students from under represented groups, such as women and minorities, to follow career paths that include academic science or engineering research. INBT’s nanobio REU has been particularly popular, attracting several hundred applications to its highly competitive program each year.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology 2011 REUs include:

Mary Bedard, Elon University (J.D. Tovar Lab, Chemistry)

Lyndsey Brightful, Hampton University (Margarita Herrera-Alonso Lab, Materials Science and Engineering)

Erin Heim, University of Florida (Denis Wirtz Lab/PSOC, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Benjamin Hendricks, Purdue University (Nitish Thakor Lab, Biomedical Engineering)

Jennifer Hernandez Muniz, University of Puerto Rico (Warren Grayson Lab, Biomedical Engineering)

Alyssa Kosmides, Rutgers University (Jordan Green Lab, Biomedical Engineering)

Allatah Mekile, East Stroudburg University (Jeff Wang Lab/CCNE, Mechanical Engineering)

Evelyn Okeke, City University of New York (Doug Robinson Lab, Cell Biology)

Thea Roper, North Carolina State University (Sharon Gerecht Lab/PSOC, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Nailah Seale, Howard University (Warren Grayson Lab, Biomedical Engineering)

Justin Samorajski, University of Dallas (Peter Searson Lab/CCNE, Materials Science and Engineering)

Quinton Smith, University of New Mexico (Sharon Gerecht Lab/PSOC, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Diane H. Yoon, Rice University (Hai-Quan Mao Lab, Materials Science and Engineering)

Mary Zuniga, Northern Arizona University (David Gracias Lab, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering).

Story and photos by Mary Spiro

 

 

 

INBT’s REU gives students 10 weeks to find out if research is for them

Roberto Rivera worked in Nina Markovic’s physics lab. (Photo: Sarah Gubara)

Johns Hopkins University was founded as a research university. But the fact is, research is not the best career path for everyone. That’s why Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology offers a 10-week summer research internship for undergraduate students. There’s no better way to find out if research is for you than to actually do it.

During the summer of 2010, 16 students from universities across the country were admitted into INBT’s highly competitive Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation. This was the third year of INBT’s REU program, and this group of scholars represented the Institute’s largest since the program began. Students are mentored by faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in INBT affiliated laboratories across Hopkins.

Makeeda Moore conducted research in Sharon Gerecht’s lab. (Photo: Sarah Gubara)

Projects are designed in such a way that students are able to gather relevant data in such a short period of time. At the end of the 10-week research program, they presented their findings at a university-wide collaborative research poster session held with other summer interns from across several divisions at Johns Hopkins. Some students are invited stay on for a few weeks after the conclusion of their program and continue to work in their assigned laboratories. Several REU scholars have been able to subsequently publish peer-reviewed scientific reports with their advisors.

In addition to their academic and research activities, INBT REU participants have the opportunity to live with other summer interns and mingle at organized and impromptu social events. Outings have included cookouts, crab feasts and Orioles baseball games.

Watch a video about the REU poster session here!

Meet the 2010 REU students here.

Applications are no longer accepted for the 2011 REU program.

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

Drazer wins NSF Career Award

German Drazer

German Drazer (Photo: Will Kirk)

German Drazer, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology was recently named a recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, given in recognition of a young scientist’s commitment to research and education. Drazer was given the award for “Deterministic and Stochastic Transport of Suspended Particles in Periodic Systems: Fundamentals and Applications in Separation Science.” The grant will support his investigations into the transport phenomena that arise in the motion of suspended particles in spatially periodic systems, and the translation of these phenomena into new principles for the manipulation of suspended particles in fluidic devices.

Read more about the work in the Drazer Lab here.

INBT researchers use LEGO to study what happens inside lab-on-a-chip devices

Johns Hopkins nanobio summer internship helps undergrads learn research ropes

Summertime flies by when it is spent hard at work in a laboratory; but the 12 student researchers selected for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) still had plenty of fun. Here are highlights of their experience working, living, and playing at Johns Hopkins University this summer. INBT’s NanoBio REU is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Ten weeks of intensive research

Nanobio REU 2009: First Row, l-r: INBT ed. prog. coordintor Ashanti Edwards, Olusoji Afuwape. Second Row: Lawrence Lin, Stefanie Gonzalez, Stephanie Naufel, Hannah Wilson, Amber Ortega. Back row: Chao Yin, Steven Bolger, Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Alex Federation, John Jones Molina. (Spiro/INBT)
Nanobio REU 2009: First Row, l-r: INBT ed. prog. coordinator Ashanti Edwards, Olusoji Afuwape. Second Row: Lawrence Lin, Stefanie Gonzalez, Stephanie Naufel, Hannah Wilson, Amber Ortega. Back row: Chao Yin, Steven Bolger, Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Alex Federation, John Jones Molina. (Spiro/INBT)

Each REU student conducted research for 10 weeks in the lab of an INBT affiliated faculty member who served as their principle investigator (PI). Students were mentored by a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in the faculty member’s lab and developed research projects that could be feasibly completed within this time. Findings were presented at a collaborative poster session. (See section below.)

“When I came to Johns Hopkins, I expected people to be more cutthroat about their work. What I found was that people are very serious about their work, but at the same time they were laid back, approachable and helpful, which made it even better. I would recommend this program to anyone.”  ~Alex Federation, University of Rochester

“I had previously planned to just get my master’s degree and stop, but I had such a great experience that I am now considering getting my PhD.” ~ Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Johns Hopkins University

Beyond the lab

Chao Yin worked at the School of Medicine (Bailey/JHU)
Chao Yin worked at the School of Medicine (Bailey/JHU)

To expose the REU students to concepts and ideas beyond the laboratory, INBT hosted four professional development seminars during June and July. Anyone on campus was welcome to attend these seminars. REU participants had the opportunity to listen to professionals discuss  wide-ranging topics. Talks covered intellectual property, how to market a new technology, how science makes it into the news, and what to expect after graduation. These hour-long talks featured speakers John Fini, director of Intellectual Property for the Homewood schools; Charles Day, senior editor at Physics Today; Tim Weihs, professor of Materials Science and Engineering and co-founder of Reactive NanoTechnologies (makers of NanoFoil®); and Matthew Lesho, Biomedical Engineer with Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems and Hopkins alumnus.

“My lab was great. Everyone was hard working but at the same time they joked around so that made it fun. I enjoyed INBT’s professional development seminars because they gave insight to subjects outside of basic science.”   ~ Chao Yin, Duke University

Unique opportunities

REU student Kayode Sanni, 3rd from left, and assistant prof. Jeff Gray, center, travelled to the RosettaCON 2009 conference in Leavenworth, WA, where Sanni presented his research poster. (Gray Lab/JHU)
REU student Kayode Sanni, 3rd from left, traveled with PI assistant prof. Jeff Gray, center, and the entire Gray Lab to the RosettaCON 2009 conference in Leavenworth, WA, where Sanni presented his research poster. (Gray Lab/JHU)

 

Students integrated fully into the labs where they worked. Research completed by an REU participant could be published on its own, or become part of published work via their PI at some point in the future–and this is a goal.  Principle investigators and mentors work with students to quickly design projects of scientific merit so that research is not merely an exercise, but fulfills the goal of being a “research experience for undergraduates.”  INBT labs to which students are assigned engage in some of the most advanced nanobiotechnology research in the world.  Some students may be able to travel to scientific conferences to present their findings.  Even without this opportunity, however, INBT’s REU participants truly learn what the life of a researcher is like.

Laboratory tours

 

Research undergraduates toured the Molecular Imaging Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Spiro/INBT)
Research undergraduates toured the Molecular Imaging Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Spiro/INBT)

The students had an opportunity to tour the Molecular Imaging Center and Cancer Functional Imaging Core, located in the Broadway Research Building Animal Facility at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The Molecular Imaging Center contains facilities for PET and SPECT scans, MRI and spectroscope, ultrasound, optical imaging, a “faxitron” radiography system and an irradiator. A collection of small research animals used for research also is housed in this building. Elena Artemova, administrative coordinator for the center, provided the students with a comprehensive tour.

Collaborative poster session

At the conclusion of the REU program, participants gathered with other research students from across the John Hopkins University campus for an interdisciplinary research poster session at the School of Medicine. More than 80 students from four divisions, including engineering, medicine, arts and science, and public health, presented posters at this session.

 

Stephanie Naufel and Olusoji Afuwape at collaborative poster session. (Spiro/INBT)
Stephanie Naufel and Olusoji Afuwape at collaborative poster session. (Spiro/INBT)

“I learned a lot and definitely learned how to be a researcher. I gained a better appreciation for the amount of work that goes into each research project.” ~ Stefanie Gonzalez, Milwaukee School of Engineering

“It was challenging and I consider that fun. Originally I was only interested in neuroscience, but through this project, I was exposed to the field of epigenetics so that is something I am willing to pursue. It definitely changed my perception about what I wanted to do.” ~ Olusoji Afuwape, University of Illinois at Chicago

Enjoying life in Baltimore

Baltimore  is a city rich in cultural diversity, and there is always plenty to do.  INBT’s summer nanobio REU students saw the Baltimore Orioles play basebal, enjoyed pizza parties and ice cream socials, and had a chance to try some authentic Maryland steamed crabs. They also got to make friends from different parts of the country who were interested in different disciplines. The REU program provides housing, a stipend, and organized group activities with other summer research program participants so that students have the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds.

 

Maryland's authentic steamed crabs. (Spiro/JHU)
Maryland’s authentic steamed crabs. (Spiro/JHU)

“INBT’s summer REU program is a great way to have networking opportunities with other students, to be interdisciplinary in your research and to learn about different areas of research that you had not thought about before.” ~ Amber Ortega, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

“Although working in a lab with a principle investigator like Doug Robinson was really intense, it pushed me to my limit and I learned a lot. Also the city aspect was nice since I have lived in a small town all my life. There is a lot of culture in Baltimore and that’s what I like.” ~ Lawrence Lin, Rice University

Meet all of INBT 2009 summer nanobio REU students here.

For more information about the  INBT Nanobio REU, click here.

Story by Mary Spiro