USC Hosts Nanoscience Conference

Tissue regeneration, diagnostics and therapeutics are highlighted at meetings and a workshop.

By Carl Marziali
D.C. staff member Steven Moldin was among the USC officials in attendance.

Photo/Karen Newell Young
Major discoveries in nanotechnology over the past five years compel an accelerated search for medical applications, said organizers of a national conference held at USC March 20-21.

The conference provided a public showcase for some of the discoveries and opportunities discussed earlier in the week during a USC-hosted workshop on translational nanoscience.

“Advances in engineering and science at the nanoscale now offer the potential to make very, very small particles, devices, machines things that could either deliver a therapeutic to the human body or be inserted into the human body to combat disease,” said Steven Moldin, executive director of USC’s Washington, D.C. Office of Research Advancement.

“This is all being driven by technological advances at a pace that was unanticipated even five years ago.”

USC was chosen to host the week-long meetings because of its expertise in engineering and fabrication sciences and nanochemistry, Moldin noted, and because the university already has a Biomedical Nanoscience Initiative, co-chaired by Richard Cote of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Mark Thompson of USC College.

The purpose of the conference was to match basic nanotechnology research with medical areas having urgent needs, said co-organizer James Murday, director of physical sciences development in the D.C. Office of Research Advancement.

“What are some of the major problems facing doctors and clinicians where they would significantly benefit from some new approaches to solve problems, and is there anything in the nano world that offers hope?” he asked.

Murday was one of the architects of the National Nanotechnology Initiative as a scientist in the Department of Defense. The multi-agency initiative program coordinates more than $1.5 billion in annual research grants.

“The goal (of the conference) was to see where the sweet spots are promising opportunities for nano-enabled technologies to make significant impact to medicine and health. In turn, those insights will provide strategic investment guidance to the funding communities,” Murday said.

He identified three major areas highlighted at the conference: tissue regeneration and implants, diagnostics and imaging, and drugs and therapeutics.

The conference included presentations from researchers at leading research centers, including USC, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California system, Baylor College of Medicine, Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center, the University of Illinois and General Electric.

Four USC research groups presented findings.

Cote discussed his laboratory’s development of filters that could be used to detect and isolate cancer cells floating in the bloodstream. Siyuan Lu, a graduate student in a group led by Mark Humayun of the Keck School and Anupam Madhukar of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, presented research on drug delivery in the eye through nanoscale devices.

Thompson provided an update on USC research into arrays of nanosensors designed to detect hundreds of medically important molecules with high accuracy and low cost. Richard Roberts of USC College explained his method for finding short, easily manufactured protein relatives, known as peptides, that could be used for molecule detection.

Also at the conference, Sarah Heilshorn of Stanford University and Guohui Wu of the University of California, Santa Barbara received Young Investigator awards

The tandem conference/workshop was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and BioEngineering (part of the National Institutes of Health) and the National Science Foundation.