Summer research symposium to feature INBT-hosted interns

The School of Medicine will host the second annual Hopkins Career Academic and Research Experiences for Students (C.A.R.E.S.) Summer Symposium on Thursday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 the Anne and Mike Armstrong Medical Education Building.

SOM150502 CARES Summer 2015 Program Poster 24x36-3 (1)_Page_2Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology has 15 Research Experience for Undergraduates participating in the symposium.  In addition to more than one dozen poster presenters, REU Ashley Williams will give an individual talk on her research project at 1:20 p.m. in the East Auditorium. High school students from the INBT supported SARE program (Summer Academic Research Experience) will also have posters, and two-time SARE scholar Assefa Akinwole will give a talk on his work at 12:50 p.m. in the West Auditorium. The symposium is free and open to the entire Hopkins Community.

In total, more than 150 high school students from Baltimore City and undergraduates from around the country will present posters and oral presentations. Peter Agre, M.D. (Med ’74), director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, will deliver the keynote address.

“This is an excellent opportunity for our Baltimore City scholars to showcase their talents, intellect, and passion for science and medicine and reaffirm that they can compete at the highest level with undergraduates from across the country,” said Danny Teraguchi, Ph.D., assistant dean for student affairs and director of the office for student diversity.

C.A.R.E.S. is grateful to the Office of the Vice Dean for Education, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Summer Internship Program, Johns Hopkins Internship Program in Brain Sciences, and its corporate sponsor, PNC, for supporting the symposium, and for their commitment to advancing education opportunities and academic programming for Baltimore City youth.

All press inquiries about this program or about INBT in general should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director at


Assefa Akinwole

Assefa Akinwole

Ashley Williams

Ashley Williams

Neuro X symposium talk titles revealed

We know you are probably wondering what this Neuro X symposium is all about. It’s a pretty mysterious title for a research symposium. But we at the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology like to keep you on your toes. Neuro is well, brain stuff, and X is, well, nearly anything you want it to be. And our talk titles reflect as much!

neuro-x-ad-2The Neuro X symposium (and poster session) is Friday, May 1 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Owens Auditorium, between CRB I and CRB II  on the Johns Hopkins University medical campus. If you have not registered yet, please go to and register a poster or just let us know you are going to be there.

From 8 to 9 a.m. there will be a free continental breakfast and time for networking. After a brief introduction from symposium chairs Peter Searson, director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, and Dwight Bergles, professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, the speakers will begin as follows:

9:05 – 9:35 – Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, FAANS, “Cutting Edge: Chasing Migratory Cancer Cells”

Professor of Neurological Surgery and Oncology
Neuroscience and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

9:35 – 10:05 – Jordan J. Green, PhD, “NanoBioTechnologies to Treat Brain Cancer”

Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery,
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Materials Science & Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering

10:05 – 10:35 – Ahmet Hoke MD, PhD, FRCPC, “Electrospun nanofibers for nerve regeneration”

Professor, Neurology and Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

10:35-10:45 – Break/Networking

10:45-11:15 – Patricia H. Janak, “Neural circuits for reward: new advances and future challenges”

Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences/Department of Neuroscience, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Johns Hopkins University

11:15- 11:45 – Piotr Walczak, MD.PhD, “MRI-Guided Targeting of the Brain with Therapeutic Agents at High Efficiency and Specificity”

Associate Professor, Department of Radiology and Radiological Science, Division of MR Research, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

11:15 – 12:15 – Martin G. Pomper, MD, PhD, “Molecular Neuroimaging”

William R. Brody Professor of Radiology; Professor of Radiology and Radiological Science, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

12:15 -1:15 – Lunch

1:15-2:15 – Poster Session A

2:15-3:15 – Poster Sessions B

3:30 – Prize Presentations/Photos



Join the Facebook event page here:

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


Summer scholars celebrate with poster session

The Johns Hopkins Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE) program will hold a closing celebration and poster session for participants on August 15 at 3:30 in the pre-function area of the Woods Basic Science Auditorium on the ground floor at the medical campus.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.17.09 PMThe SARE is an outreach initiative and internship program that provides a biomedical research experience and academic support for selected high school students from the greater Baltimore community. It is partially funded by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT).

“SARE Scholars typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds and participants are chosen from Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore, the SEED School of Maryland, the Crossroads School and KIPP Academy,” said Doug Robinson, professor of cell biology, INBT affiliate and founder of the program. “SARE Scholars spend the summer working in research labs with doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, while taking a structured academic program and working on professionalism skills. At the celebration, Scholars will present the fruits of their hard work through a professional scientific poster session.”

Robinson noted that since 2009, 16 Scholars have participated in SARE. Of those who have reached college age, 100 percent have enrolled into 4-year universities, and 40 percent of those students chose science, engineering, or health-related degree programs.

“Although we often hear of sad stories of Baltimore youth, this event will show just how exceptional Baltimore students are,” Robinson said. “I promise you will be amazed and inspired by the SARE Celebration.”

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



Stem Cell Science, Engineering theme of May 2 symposium

Johns Hopkins Institute for Nanobiotechnology is now accepting posters for its annual symposium to be held May 2 at Owens Auditorium (located between CRB I and CRB II) at the School of Medicine. Deadline for poster registration is April 30. Top presenters are eligible to win one of three NIKON cameras.

All disciplines and topics are encouraged to register, even if not related to theme.

Go to this link for full agenda and to register.

nano-bio-symposium-14-flyer (2)The theme this year is Stem Cell Science and Engineering: State-of-the-Art. Speakers start at 9 a.m. through noon. Then at 1:30 there will be a poster session where students across Johns Hopkins will present some of their current research findings. Judges have been selected from industry and the university. Don’t miss this exciting exploration of how scientists, engineers and clinicians can work together with stem cells to solve some of humanities pressing problems in health and medicine.

This year’s speakers and talk titles include:

• 8:30-9 am Registration Lobby of Owens Auditorium

• 9:00-9:05 Welcome and Introduction of speakers Peter Searson

• 9:05-9:35 Human cell engineering: recent progress in reprogramming cell fates and editing the nuclear genome, Linzhao Cheng

• 9:35-10:05 Regenerating Musculoskeletal Tissues from Fat, Warren Grayson

• 10:05-10:35 Hitting the Bull’s Eye: Targeting HMGA1 in Cancer Stem Cells using Nanotechnology, Linda M. S. Resar

• 10:35-10:45 Coffee Break

• 10:45-11:15 Engineering biomaterials to enhance stem cell potential, Hai-Quan Mao

• 11:15 -11:45 Engineered Human Pluripotent Stem Cells for Disease Modeling Applications, Mark Powers

• 11:45-12:15 Understanding the function of risk genes for mental disorders using iPSC models, Guo-li Ming

Lunch break

• 1:30-3:30 pm Poster Sessions Owens Corridor

• 3:30 Announcement of Poster Session Winners/Adjourn




Nanotech collaboration between Johns Hopkins and Belgium had INBT roots

Johns Hopkins Medicine recently announced exciting news of a joint collaborative agreement with IMEC, a leading nano-electronics research center based in Belgium. The objective of the partnership is to advance applications of silicon nanotechnology in health care, beginning with development of a point-of-care device to enable a broad range of clinical tests to be performed outside the laboratory. This unique venture will combine Johns Hopkins clinical and research expertise with IMEC’s technical and engineering capabilities.

TIMEC clean roomhe two organizations plan to forge strategic ties with additional collaborators across the value chain in the health care and technology sectors. Development of a next generation ”lab-on-a-chip”, making diagnostic testing faster and easier for applications such as disease monitoring and management, disease surveillance, rural health care and clinical trials, will form the initial focus of the partnership. Denis Wirtz, Associate Director of INBT, will serve on the Advisory Board for the collaboration.

The roots of the new Hopkins-IMEC partnership were initiated over five years ago when Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) established a collaborative relationship with IMEC. Since its inception in 2009, the INBT-IMEC partnership has blossomed into a number of collaborative projects, which enabled both graduate and undergraduate students from Hopkins to broaden their research experience with internships at IMEC’s state-of-the-art laboratories in Leuven, Belgium (with some students from IMEC also interning at Hopkins).

These projects were built around Hopkins/INBT research interests in nanobiotechnology such as controlled drug delivery, microfluidics, stem cell platforms and neural networks to mention a few. IMEC’s massive expertise in nanofabrication, darkfield and lens-free microscopy, neuro-electronics and lithography provides a huge opportunity for JHU researchers to evaluate translational pathways for basic discoveries.

Initial discussions about a broader relationship between the two institutions originated with an INBT-IMEC team exploring possible additional opportunities building on our existing partnership. A visit to Hopkins by senior IMEC management in August 2012 was organized by INBT, and laid the groundwork for subsequent next steps which included a University-wide team. We are delighted to have identified an opportunity for Hopkins to create a collaborative model to develop potentially revolutionary new techniques combining the unique advantages of silicon technology to a new generation of diagnostics and cures.

Separate from this recent collaboration, INBT has hosted students to conduct research at IMEC since 2009. Funding to support students abroad has come from INBT and the National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program.

Read the official announcement from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine here.

Check out the INBT/IMEC blog.

Read about the INBT/IMEC IRES program here.

By Tom Fekete, INBT director of corporate partnerships.


What’s on the horizon for regenerative medicine?

Organo-electric nanowires.  (Tovar Lab/JHU)

Organo-electric nanowires. (Tovar Lab/JHU)

Editor’s Note: The following is a summary of one of the talks from the 2013 Nano-bio Symposium hosted by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology held May 17. This summary was written by Christian Pick, a doctoral candidate in the chemical and biomolecular engineering laboratory of Joelle Frechette. Look for other symposium summaries on the INBT blog.

The fundamental goal of regenerative medicine is to allow the body to restore normal function to damaged or diseased tissues. Tissue scaffolds provide a structure for cells to grow on to accomplish this task. The pinnacle of scaffold function would be for the tissue grown from a scaffold to be completely indistinguishable from natural, undamaged tissue.

In order to improve scaffolds, researchers need to better understand how scaffolds interact with the body. Peter Gabriele, Director of Emerging Technology at Secant Medical, discussed FT-IR microscopy,  which is a unique tool that can help researchers with this very task.

Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy is a powerful technique for analyzing the chemical identity of materials. FTIR spectroscopy has been used for years in forensic analysis for identifying unknown samples. FTIR microscopy combines the functionality of FTIR spectroscopy with optical microscopy.

For the field of regenerative medicine, this means that the surface functionality of a scaffold can be mapped and studied throughout its entire lifetime: from production through degradation in-vivo. For instance, FTIR microscopy can be used to analyze surface modifications made to a scaffold during fabrication.

Additionally, it can be used to track tissue formation in implanted scaffolds. As an example, Mr. Gabriele described studies on “biorubber” or poly(glycerol sebacate) (PGS). FTIR microscopy has been used to identify collagen integration within the polymer during implantation as well as map the erosion of the material once implanted. Through the use of tools such as FT-IR microscopy, researchers can continue to expand the functionality of tissue scaffolds.

Secant Medical

Watch a video about INBT’s current research efforts in the realm of regenerative medicine here.

High school research internships keep skills fresh

For most teenagers, finding a summer job is almost a rite of passage into adulthood. It’s a chance to learn responsibility and time management and practice how to get along with coworkers. It also helps earn money for college or fun. A group of specially selected teens, however, were able to take the concept of the summer job a step further as summer research scholars in Johns Hopkins University laboratories.

High schooler Christopher Miller with his graduate student mentor Hoku West-Foyle. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

High schooler Christopher Miller with his graduate student mentor Hoku West-Foyle. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

The Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE) program, an opportunity funded in part by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and the School of Medicine, trains students from “disadvantaged” homes throughout the state. Some students may have a parent in prison or struggling with addiction. Others may face extreme financial hardship or even have been homeless.

SARE scholars have a chance to overcome obstacles to academic success by working in academia under the guidance of a mentor. They improve their writing and mathematics skills through tutoring. And they learn how to keep good laboratory records, how to follow safety protocols, and how to make a professional presentation.

“This is way better than flipping burgers,” exclaimed Stephanie Keyaka, as she prepared an image of a Western Blot performed on Drosophila eye genes. Keyaka, a tenth grader from The SEED School of Maryland, the state’s only public boarding school. She studied rhodopsin in the eyes of flies in the lab of professor Craig Montell during the summer of 2012.

SARE, launched in 2009 through a collaboration between INBT and School of Medicine cell biology associate professor Doug Robinson, recruits students from the private nonprofit Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore, from The SEED School, and now also from The Crossroads School, operated by the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation. While the partnership with Boys Hope Girls Hope has been in place from the beginning, working with The SEED School and The Crossroads School has expanded the potential pool of qualified and interested applicants. “Expanding the applicant pool makes the program more competitive, which is a worthwhile experience—to have to compete for something,” Robinson said.

During their time at Hopkins, each SARE scholar focuses on a mini research project that advances the larger goals of the lab where they are placed. No prior laboratory work is expected, and the learning curve is steep. But with mentoring from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the scholars find their way. At the end of the summer, the scholars present their findings in a poster session for their peers, faculty and staff.

“At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, but now I get it!” laughed Christopher Miller, a tenth grader from The SEED School. Miller studied the motor protein myosin in the Robinson lab.

Miller’s mentor, cell biology doctoral student Hoku West-Foyle, said working with students during the summer helps to re-energize the lab. “At first, it is a bit of extra work, but it gives you teaching experience, and when you are explaining your project to other people, it helps to reinforce why the larger research question matters. It fires you up to work harder,” West-Foyle said.

Shaolin Holloman, an eleventh grader at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Girls Hope scholar, worked in the cell biology lab of professor Carolyn Machamer. Her project sought to understand why the SARS coronavirus localizes to the Golgi apparatus of the cell.

“I liked the work experience because we actually got to do hands-on experiments,” said Hollomon, who hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. “The biggest challenge for me was to keep up with my weekly essays, my summer reading and the work in the lab.”

Robinson hopes the program can become self-sustaining and even scalable to accept more students. “We are at a juncture where we are seeking additional funding, so we are systematically assessing our impact,” Robinson said. One would judge that the SARE program’s impact is significant, since all five alumni who have graduated from high school, or who will do so this spring, have gone on to university, Robinson reported. Two students have declared biology as their major and the other three still in high school are interested in science, technology, mathematics or health-related disciplines. Five new scholars will join SARE this summer.

Khalek Kirkland, The SEED School headmaster said summer internships of this kind are important to help keep students motivated and on track academically. “We do believe in the ‘summer brain drain,’ in that students do lose something over the summer,” Kirkland explained. “Doug and I are in talks about writing a grant together to expand the program not only to SEED School students, but to additional students as well.”

Anyone with interest in supporting the efforts of the SARE program can contact Douglas Robinson via email a

Story by Mary Spiro

More on the SARE program:

Lab coats are summer gear for high school researchers 

Fraley nets $500K Burroughs Wellcome Fund award for microfluidics work

Stephanie Fraley (Photo: Homewood Photography)

Stephanie Fraley (Photo: Homewood Photography)

A Johns Hopkins research fellow who is developing novel approaches to quickly identify bacterial DNA and human microRNA has won the prestigious $500,000 Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) Career Award at the Scientific Interfaces. The prize, distributed over the next five years, helps transition newly minted PhDs from postdoctoral work into their first faculty positions.

Stephanie Fraley is a postdoctoral fellow working with Samuel Yang, MD, in Emergency Medicine/Infectious Disease at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Jeff Wang, PhD, in Biomedical Engineering with appointments in the Whiting School of Engineering and the medical school. The goal of her work is to develop engineering technologies that can diagnose and guide treatment of sepsis, a leading cause of death worldwide, while simultaneously leading to improved understanding of how human cells and bacterial cells interact.

“Sepsis is an out of control immune response to infection,” Fraley said. “We are developing tools that are single molecule sensitive and can rapidly sort and detect bacterial and host response markers associated with sepsis. However, our devices are universal in that they can be applied to many other diseases.”

Fraley is using lab-on-chip technology, also known as microfluidics, to overcome the challenges of identifying the specific genetic material of bacteria and immune cells. Her technology aims to sort the genetic material down to the level of individual sequences so that each can be quantified with single molecule sensitivity.

“Bacterial DNA is on everything and contamination is everywhere, so trying to find the ones associated with sepsis is like the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack,” Fraley said. “With microfluidics, we can separate out all the bacterial DNA, so instead of a needle in a haystack, we have just the needles.”

Another advantage to Fraley’s novel technology is that it will assess all the diverse bacterial DNA present in a sample, without presuming which genetic material is important. “Bacteria are constantly evolving and becoming drug resistant,” she said. “With this technology, we can see all the bacterial DNA that is present individually and not just the strains we THINK we need to look for.”

Fraley’s award will follow her wherever her career takes her. The first two years of the prize fund postdoctoral training and that last three years help launch her professional career in academia. During the application process, she had to make a short presentation on her proposal to BWF’s panel of experts. “It was like the television show ‘Shark Tank’ but for scientists,” she laughs. “ The panelists gave me many helpful suggestions on my idea.”

Fraley earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering with Denis Wirtz, professor and director of Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center. Wirtz is associate director for the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and Yang and Wang also are INBT affiliated faculty members.

BWF’s Career Awards at the Scientific Interface provides funding to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first three years of faculty service. These awards are intended to foster the early career development of researchers who have transitioned or are transitioning from undergraduate and/or graduate work in the physical/mathematical/computational sciences or engineering into postdoctoral work in the biological sciences, and who are dedicated to pursuing a career in academic research. These awards are open to U.S. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents as well as to U.S. temporary residents.

Coated nanoparticles move easily into brain tissue

Real-time imaging of nanoparticles green) coated with polyethylene-glycol (PEG), a hydrophilic, non-toxic polymer, penetrate within normal rodent brain. Without the PEG coating, negatively charged, hydrophobic particles (red) of a similar size do not penetrate. Image by Elizabeth Nance, Kurt Sailor, Graeme Woodworth.

Johns Hopkins researchers report they are one step closer to having a drug-delivery system flexible enough to overcome some key challenges posed by brain cancer and perhaps other maladies affecting that organ. In a report published online Aug. 29 in Science Translational Medicine, the Johns Hopkins team says its bioengineers have designed nanoparticles that can safely and predictably infiltrate deep into the brain when tested in rodent and human tissue.

“We are pleased to have found a way to prevent drug-embedded particles from sticking to their surroundings so that they can spread once they are in the brain,” said Justin Hanes, Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology and project leader in the Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

Standard protocols following the removal of brain tumors include chemotherapy directly applied to the surgical site to kill any cancer cells left behind. This method, however, is only partially effective because it is hard to administer a dose of chemotherapy high enough to sufficiently penetrate the tissue to be effective and low enough to be safe for the patient and healthy tissue. Furthermore, previous versions of drug-loaded nanoparticles typically adhere to the surgical site and do not penetrate into the tissue.

These newly engineered nanoparticles overcome this challenge. Elizabeth Nance, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Graeme Woodworth, suspected that drug penetration might be improved if drug-delivery nanoparticles interacted minimally with their surroundings. Nance achieved this by coating nano-scale beads with a dense layer of PEG or poly(ethylene glycol). The team then injected the coated beads, which had been marked with a fluorescent tag,  into slices of rodent and human brain tissue. They found that a dense coating of PEG allowed larger beads to penetrate the tissue, even those beads that were nearly twice the size previously thought to be the maximum possible for penetration within the brain. They then tested these beads in live rodent brains and found the same results.

Elizabeth Nance. Photo by Ming Yang.

The results were similar when biodegradable nanoparticles carrying the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel and coated with PEG were used. “It’s really exciting that we now have particles that can carry five times more drug, release it for three times as long and penetrate farther into the brain than before,” said Nance. “The next step is to see if we can slow tumor growth or recurrence in rodents.”

Woodworth added that the team “also wants to optimize the particles and pair them with drugs to treat other brain diseases, like multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” Another goal for the team is to be able to administer their nanoparticles intravenously, which is research they have already begun.

Additional authors on the paper include Kurt Sailor, Ting-Yu Shih, Qingguo Xu, Ganesh Swaminathan, Dennis Xiang, and Charles Eberhart, all from The Johns Hopkins University.

Story adapted from an original press release by Cathy Kolf.


Additional news coverage of this research can be found at the following links:

Nanotechnology/Bio & Medicine

Death and Taxes Mag

New Scientist Health

Nanotech Web

Portugese news release (in Portugese)

German Public Radio (in German)

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.