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Posted: December 3, 2009
USC Biomedical Nanoscience Initiative has now built out the core nanotechnology labs
(Nanowerk News) After four years - a blink of an eye in research time - the USC Biomedical Nanoscience Initiative has built out the core laboratories specified in Executive Vice President and Provost C. L. Max Nikias’ original vision.
The new facilities provide a solid foundation for research at USC on nanoscience, defined as the study of matter and structure roughly on the order of a billionth of a meter. Biomedical nanoscience seeks to use nanoscale particles and structures for highly precise tests, devices and treatments.
“We’ve improved our infrastructure tremendously,” initiative co-director Mark Thompson of the USC College said at the group’s annual retreat Nov. 20.
Co-director Sarah Hamm-Alvarez of the USC School of Pharmacy said the infrastructure had come so far that the initiative should consider logical next steps, such as post-doc fellowships, student travel fellowships, seminars, and other educational opportunities.
Guest speaker Paras Prasad, a nanotechnology expert at The State University of New York, told the initiative’s researchers: “You could be globally visible in this area in a very short time, and make a real huge impact on 21st century health care.”
A new facility for imaging molecular structure rounds out the nanobiophysics, cell and tissue imaging, and protein analysis core laboratories opened previously.
Formally called the Biomolecular and Small Molecule Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility, the new laboratory (actually two rooms on the first floor of Stabler Hall) contains magnetic field scanners for studying medically important molecules in their natural state. The laboratory was developed by Richard Roberts, professor of chemistry, who wrote the grant that obtained funding that was matched by the provost's office.
Previously, USC researchers were limited to x-ray crystallography, which only works if a molecule can be grown in crystal form. Many cannot.
The new equipment, Thompson said, “will allow us to determine the structure of small and medium-sized biomolecules.”
Speaking on future directions, Vice Provost for Research Advancement Randolph Hall reminded listeners that nanoscience had received a major outlay from the Office of the Provost. Hall agreed that the infrastructure goals had been largely accomplished, and added the time had come to capitalize on the investment.
“Eventually we need to take that basic science and turn it into drugs and therapeutic devices,” he said.
Hall said he was “very concerned” about medicine’s very slow progress against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases in particular.
Alluding to recent disappointing news about screening technologies, such as mammograms, Hall said: “Many of the things we’ve tried in the past have been very imperfect solutions, if solutions at all, to the problem of cancer.”
USC speakers at the initiative’s retreat brought some encouraging results. Richard Brutchey of the USC College presented his research on replacing cadmium-containing nanoscale drugs and devices with less toxic alternatives; Andrew MacKay of the USC School of Pharmacy discussed nanostructures that carry drugs to tumors and greatly increase their efficacy; Parag Mallick of the Keck School of USC suggested new approaches for predicting which cancer patients will respond to a particular drug; Thomas Chen of the Keck School showed that irradiated carbon nanotubes placed in a tumor destroy cancer cells not affected by direct radiation.