Science Britannica ‘Clear Blue Skies’ screening Nov. 22

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology will present a screening of an episode of the Science Britannica show “Clear Blue Skies,” whichaired on the BBC earlier this year. This episode discusses the importance of funding for basic and translational research.

Brian Cox is the host of Clear Blue Skies on the BBC.

Brian Cox is the host of Clear Blue Skies on the BBC.

The video (about 50 mins long) is hosted by Brian Cox, a physicist from the University of Manchester, who describes the history of funding for scientific research and highlights some key discoveries from Britain. Since it is incumbent on the scientific community to ensure that the general public and politicians understand the importance of science funding, this video provides an important perspective on this topic.

The screening will be Friday, November 22 at 5 p.m. in Shaffer 3 on the Homewood Campus. This screening is free and open to the entire Johns Hopkins Community, but seating is limited. Afterward, there will be an informal discussion about the importance of science funding with INBT director Peter Searson, professor of materials science and engineering at JHU.

Tackling the brain’s barrier

Watch this video now. Click the image.

Much like a sentry at a border crossing, the network of tiny blood vessels surrounding the brain only allows a few important molecules in or out. Of course, there is good reason for this. The brain controls the senses, motor skills, breathing, and heart rate, as well as being the seat of thoughts and emotional experiences. Just as our tough plated skull offers a physical armor for the brain, the blood-brain barrier shields our brain from potentially harmful substances at the molecular level.

“Despite its powerful role in controlling bodily functions, the brain is extremely sensitive to chemical changes in environment,” said Peter Searson, director of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) and lead on the Blood Brain Barrier Working Group (BBBWG). The BBBWG is a collaboration between INBT and the Brain Science Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Oxygen, sugars (such as glucose), and amino acids used to build proteins can enter the brain from the bloodstream with no trouble, while waste products, such as carbon dioxide, exit the brain just as easily. But for most everything else, there’s just no getting past this specialized hurdle. In fact, the blood-brain barrier protects the brain so effectively that it also prevents helpful drugs and therapeutic agents from reaching diseased areas of the brain. And because scientists know very little about the blood-brain barrier, discovering ways to overcome the blockade has been a challenge.

“We still don’t know very much about the structure and function of the blood-brain barrier,” Searson said. “Because we don’t know how the blood-brain barrier works, it presents a critical roadblock in developing treatment for diseases of the central nervous system, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, autism, brain cancer, Huntington’s disease, meningitis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), neuro-AIDS, Parkinson’s, and stroke. Treatable brain disorders are limited to depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain, and epilepsy. If we had a better understanding of how the blood-brain barrier worked, we would be in a better position to develop treatments for many diseases of the brain,” Searson said. But he added, even with a better understanding of the blood-brain barrier, humans cannot be used to study new therapies.

One way the BBBWG plans to surmount this roadblock is by creating an artificially engineered (or simulated) blood-brain barrier. An engineered artificial blood-brain barrier would allow researchers to conduct studies that simulate trauma to or diseases of the blood-brain barrier, such as stroke, infection, or cancer.

“It would also give us insight into understanding of the role of the blood-brain barrier in aging,” said Searson. Drug discovery and the development of new therapies for central nervous system diseases would be easier with an artificial blood-brain barrier and certainly safer than animal or human testing. Such an artificial membrane could be used as a platform to screen out drugs used to treat maladies outside the brain, but which have unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness.

The creation of such a platform will require the skills of a multidisciplinary team that includes engineers, physicists, neuroscientists and clinicians working together to bring new ideas and new perspectives, Searson added, and will build on recent advances in stem cell engineering and the development of new biomaterials. Current members of the BBBWG include researchers from the departments of neuroscience, anesthesiology, psychiatry, pathology and pharmacology from the Hopkins School of Medicine and from the departments of mechanical engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science from the Whiting School of Engineering.

One member of that multidisciplinary team is Lew Romer, MD, associate professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Cell Biology, Biomedical Engineering, and Pediatrics at the Center for Cell Dynamics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“At a cellular level, the focus here is on the adhesive interface of the neurovascular unit – the place where the microcirculation meets the complex parenchyma (or functional surface) of the brain,” Romer said. “This is a durable but delicate and highly specialized region of cell-cell interaction that is responsive to biochemical and mechanical cues.”

Romer said work on the blood-brain barrier is a “fascinating and essential frontier in cell biology and translational medicine, and one that clinicians struggle to understand and work with at the bedsides of some of our sickest and most challenging patients from the ICU’s to the Oncology clinics. Development of an in vitro blood-brain barrier model system” that could be used in molecular biology and engineering manipulations would provide investigators with a powerful window into this vital interface,” Romer added.

Visit the Blood-Brain Barrier Working Group website here.

Watch a student video about current blood-brain barrier research here.

Story by Mary Spiro first appears in the 2012 edition of Nano-Bio Magazine.

INBT launches Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence

Martin Pomper and Peter Searson will co-direct INBT’s new Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (Photo: Will Kirk/Homewood-JHU)

Faculty members associated with the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology have received a $13.6 million five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to establish a Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. The new Johns Hopkins center brings together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers and physicians to develop nanotechnology-based diagnostic platforms and therapeutic strategies for comprehensive cancer care. Seventeen faculty members will be involved initially, with pilot projects adding more participants later.

The Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, which is part of the university’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology, is one of several NCI-supported centers launched through a funding opportunity started in 2005. According to the NCI, the program was established to create “multi-institutional hubs that integrate nanotechnology across the cancer research continuum to provide new solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

Peter Searson, who is the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering and director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, will serve as the center’s director. The co-director will be Martin Pomper, professor of radiology and oncology at the School of Medicine and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

“A unique feature of the center is the integration of research, education, training and outreach, and technology commercialization,” Searson said.

To move these new technologies toward use by physicians, a Cancer Nanomedicine Commercialization Working Group will be established and headed by John Fini, director of intellectual property for the university’s Homewood campus. This group will be responsible for managing and coordinating the translational process.

Another special feature of the center will be its Validation Core, led by Pomper, who is also associate director of the Johns Hopkins In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center and director of the Johns Hopkins Small Animal Imaging Resource Program.

“Validation is about assuring that the experimental products and results we generate are on target and able to measure the biological effects for which they’re intended,” he said.

Searson and Pomper said the center will consist of four primary research projects.

One project will seek methods to screen bodily fluids such as blood or urine for indicators of cancer found outside of the genetic code, indicators called epigenetic markers. Led by Tza-Huei “Jeff” Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering; Stephen Baylin, the Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research in the School of Medicine; and James Herman, a professor of cancer biology in the School of Medicine, this project will use semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, and silica superparamagnetic particles to detect DNA methylation. Methylation adds a chemical group to the exterior of the DNA and is a biomarker frequently associated with cancer.

A second project, led by Anirban Maitra, associate professor of pathology and oncology at the School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, will focus on curcumin, a substance found in the traditional Indian spice turmeric. In preclinical studies, curcumin has demonstrated anti-cancer properties but, because of its physical size, it is not readily taken up into the bloodstream or into tissues. Engineered curcumin nanoparticles, however, can more easily reach tumors arising in abdominal organs such as the pancreas, Maitra said. This team will try to determine whether nanocurcumin, combined with chemotherapeutic agents, could become a treatment for highly lethal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer.

Hyam Levitsky, professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, will lead a third project, which will seek to use a noninvasive method to monitor the effectiveness of vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases.

A final project will build on the work of Justin Hanes and Craig Peacock, professors in the School of Medicine, to deliver therapies directly to small cell lung cancer tissue via mucus-penetrating nanoparticles.

All research efforts will be supported by a nanoparticle engineering core, led by Searson, which will make and characterize a variety of nanomaterials. Another core, centering on bioinformatics and data sharing, will be led by Rafael Irizarry, professor of biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Johns Hopkins Researchers Appointed to Governor’s Task Force to Study Nanobiotechnology

Peter Searson

Steve Desiderio

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has appointed Peter Searson and Steve Desiderio, two researchers from The Johns Hopkins University, to serve on a special task force to study the benefits of nanobiotechnology.

According to the governor’s office, the mission of the task force is “to study the benefits of nanobiotechnology including job creation, the development of lifesaving treatments, reductions in health care costs, the development of state-of-the-art electronics, medical equipment, chemical processes and other commercial products.”

Nanotechnology involves the application of materials and devices at the scale of just a few atoms in diameter. Nanobiotechnology attempts to apply these tiny technologies to medicine and basic science.

Searson is the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Engineering in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering. He is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and he directs the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in England and was a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Baltimore.

Desiderio is director of the Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, director of the Immunobiology Program at the Institute for Cell Engineering and a professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Desiderio earned his M.D. and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Desiderio also lives in Baltimore.

Both Searson and Desiderio are involved with research related to nanobiotechnology. Searson’s interests include nanoscience, biophysics and bioengineering. He led the launch of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology, which was established in 2006 as a cross-divisional center with research interests in the basic sciences, engineering, medicine and public health.

Desiderio’s research focuses on the immune system: how immune cells are able to recognize a diverse number of pathogens and respond to environmental cues. He studies the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying the development of the immune system. In 2007, Desiderio was appointed by O’Malley to the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board.

The nanobiotechnology task force will be chaired by state Sen. Jennie M. Forehand and Del. Susan C. Lee. In addition to Searson and Desiderio, task force members include Nariman Farvadin, Peter Swaan, Esther H. Chang, Lisbeth Pettengill, Patrick Y. Lu and Lawrence Tamarkin.

Along with examining the scientific and medical benefits of nanobiotechnology, the task force members expect to look at the economic impact that the development of such technologies might have on the state of Maryland, including the creation of jobs.

The governor’s office also stated that the group will study the “generation of revenue for the state and improvements to the quality of life for the state’s citizens and the state’s role in supporting Maryland’s leadership in nanobiotechnology, including: promoting public-private partnerships; assisting companies in technology transfers, including from research to commercial product; promoting research; protecting intellectual property; offering appropriate financial incentives; including tax credits; and capturing and leveraging federal funds for both public and private ventures; and make recommendations regarding actions that the state should take to promote the growth of the nanobiotechnology industries in the state.”

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

INBT, EOC directors named AAAS 2009 Fellows

The Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering faculty members who direct the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and Engineering in Oncology Center both have been awarded the distinction of AAAS Fellow. Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

Peter Searson, INBT director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Peter Searson, INBT director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz, EOC director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Denis Wirtz, EOC director. Photo by Will Kirk/JHU

Peter C. Searson, the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was named for distinguished contributions to the field of surface chemistry and nanoscience. His research interests include surface and molecular engineering, and semiconductor quantum dots.

Searson directs the interdivisional Institute for NanoBioTechnology launched in May 2006, which brings together researchers from medicine, engineering, the sciences, and public health to create new knowledge and develop new technologies to revolutionize health care and medicine. INBT currently has more than 190 affiliated faculty members. Searson has secondary appointments in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Oncology.

Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus H. Smoot Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was elected for his contributions to cell micromechanics and cell adhesion. He also was distinguished for his development and application for particle tracking methods to probe the micromechanical properties of living cells in normal conditions and disease state. Wirtz studies the biophysical properties of healthy and diseased cells, including interactions between adjacent cells and the role of cellular architecture on nuclear shape and gene expression.

Wirtz directs the newly formed Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center. The EOC is a Physical Sciences in Oncology program center of the National Cancer Institute launched in October 2009 with a $14.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. EOC brings together experts in cancer biology, molecular and cellular biophysics, applied mathematics, materials science, and physics to study and model cellular mobility and the assorted biophysical forces involved in the spread of cancer. Wirtz also serves as co-director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and has a joint appointment in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Oncology.

A total of seven Johns Hopkins faculty members were elected to AAAS this year. Read about all of them in a Johns Hopkins University press release listed in the links below.

This year 531 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 20 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego.  AAAS Fellows were announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on Dec. 18,  2009.

Story by Mary Spiro with materials provided by AAAS.

Seven Johns Hopkins Researchers Named 2009 AAAS Fellows

Searson Group Lab page

Wirtz Group Lab page

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology

Whiting School of Engineering