May 15, 2006
Johns Hopkins Creates Big NanoBioTech Institute

The folks at Johns Hopkins clearly see which way the technological winds are blowing in biotechnology.

The Johns Hopkins University 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 today officially launched its ambitious new Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

The institute will strive for 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.

The functional components of cells are molecules. To measure and manipulate small components requires the development of technology that operate on the same scale as the target systems. Nanotechnology for biological systems therefore is the right approach for the development of great diagnostics, disease treatments, and enhancements.

The Johns Hopkins institute will have 4 main emphases:

  • 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 interdisciplinary nature of the institute makes sense as well. Engineers, chemists, materials scientists, and people from other disciplines are needed in biology to do nanotech for biotech.

Advances in microfluidics will eventually drive the cost of biological science experiments by orders of magnitude. The rate of advance of biological science and biotechnology will greatly accelerate when advances in microfluidics enable the development of minature labs on a chip. Such devices will allow massive numbers of experiments and manipulations of cells and cellular components to be done in parallel at very low cost.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 May 15 09:10 PM  Nanotech for Biotech

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