Johns Hopkins is preparing to aim enormous research and
educational resources at some exceedingly small targets.
Drawing on the expertise of more than 75 faculty members
from such diverse disciplines as engineering, biology,
medicine and public health, the university will officially
launch its new Institute for
NanoBioTechnology on Monday,
May 15, with a celebration featuring prominent
The event, to be held on the Homewood campus, will call
attention to an ambitious effort to achieve major advances
in medicine by developing new diagnostic tools and
treatments based on interdisciplinary research conducted at
the atomic or molecular level. The institute will encourage
the movement of these campus breakthroughs into the private
sector for further development and marketing. At the same
time, institute members will train the next generation of
scientists and engineers in this emerging field, offering
both graduate-level instruction and a new undergraduate
minor in nanobiotechnology.
"Our goal is to establish Johns Hopkins as the world's top
research center for nanobiotechnology," said Peter Searson,
a professor of
materials science and engineering who is director of
the institute. "We plan to do this in a way that integrates
research, education and technology transfer."
The institute is being launched with $6 million in funding
and the participation of dozens of faculty members from the
Whiting School of
School of Medicine, the Krieger
School of Arts and Sciences and the
Bloomberg School of Public
Denis Wirtz, a professor of
biomolecular engineering who is the institute's
associate director, said, "In terms of the number of
affiliated researchers, we believe this is the largest
institute ever formed at Hopkins."
The institute will make use of existing laboratory space on
the Homewood and medical campuses. Its startup funding has
been provided by the National Science Foundation, the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, NASA and various Johns
Hopkins divisions. Additional financial support is being
Searson said he was particularly grateful to Sen. Barbara
Mikulski of Maryland, who helped secure some of the startup
funding and has expressed strong support for the
The opening celebration will begin at 4 p.m. in Hodson Hall
Auditorium. Nicholas P. Jones and Edward Miller, deans of
the engineering and medical schools, will welcome the
attendees. Speakers will include Searson and Aristides
Melissaratos, a Johns Hopkins graduate who is secretary of
the Maryland Department of Economic Development.
The program will also feature a panel discussion moderated
by Wirtz and including Peter N. Devreotes, director of the
Department of Cell Biology in the
School of Medicine; Martin G. Pomper, associate professor
in that school's
Department of Radiology; and Jonathan M. Links, a
professor in the
Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the
School of Public Health.
The celebration will conclude with a reception in the
first-floor lobby of Hodson Hall. Faculty members, students
and others who plan to attend are encouraged to RSVP by
calling 410-516-8723 or by visiting the institute's Web
site at http://inbt.jhu.edu.
The celebration will salute the institute researchers who
will toil at the scientific frontier where nanotechnology,
a field that is perhaps 15 years old, is applied to biology
and medicine. This emerging field, nanobiotechnology, is
barely a decade old. Hopkins is the ideal setting for such
a far-reaching effort, organizers say, because it is one of
the few institutions in the world that can bring together
world-class expertise in the many disciplines needed to
study and test biological components smaller than a human
cell and to fabricate materials and devices that can
operate at this scale.
The scale is astonishingly small. A nanometer is
one-billionth of a meter. By comparison, a single strand of
human hair is roughly 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide.
Some of the projects envisioned by institute researchers
involve manipulation of a single molecule or a fragment of
Institute members will work within four key research
Diagnostics, including the
development of molecular imaging probes that can relay
information about the health of a patient's organs and
other tissues without the need for a biopsy. Advances in
this area promise to greatly enhance the way diseases are
diagnosed and treated.
Therapeutics, including nanoscale
forms of drug delivery, gene therapy, protein
therapy and immunotherapy. These will be used to treat
diseases such as cancer and asthma and conditions such as
spinal cord injuries.
Cellular and molecular dynamics,
including the use of powerful new tools to study the inner
working of cells. This knowledge should help identify
causes of disease and new molecular targets that could help
cure medical disorders.
Health and environment, a research
thrust that will use the new tools and techniques of
nanobiotechnology in understanding the potential impact of
nanotechnology on public health and the environment.
The institute's organizers say its greatest strength will
be its ability to tackle complex medical problems by
drawing on an array of Johns Hopkins experts with widely
different skills. For example, a new therapy for cystic
fibrosis might begin with tiny polymer particles developed
by chemistry experts, carrying medications developed by
biologists. These researchers may collaborate with fluid
mechanics experts to find the most effective way to get
these particles into the lungs. Surface scientists,
toxicologists and other medical experts would assist in
getting these particles through the lungs' mucus barrier
and into the appropriate cells without endangering the
"We envision this institute providing research
coordination, seed funding and lab facilities for projects
like these," Searson said.