The CNM is a partnership between Sanford-Burnham and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) that combines world-class expertise in biology, engineering, materials science, chemistry, physics, and computational modeling to address fundamental biomedical problems. The Center seeks to discover effective diagnostics and treatments, and ultimately cures, for human diseases including cancer, diabetes, and various degenerative diseases.
Atherosclerotic plaque is the fatty material that builds up on arterial walls, where it can lead to heart disease and stroke. Atherosclerosis is currently treated with dietary changes, angioplasty (which uses a balloon to move the plaque aside) or more invasive procedures. Using drugs to break up these fatty plaques would be an enticing alternative, but delivery poses a problem. How do we precisely target the therapeutic agent to the diseased areas, leaving healthy tissues unaffected?
Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti and colleagues at Sanford-Burnham and UC Santa Barbara may have found a solution. For many years, Dr. Ruoslahti has been using specially designed peptides (pieces of proteins) to target cancer and other diseases. In a paper published online on April 11 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Ruoslahti lab reports the discovery of a new peptide that can guide drugs or imaging agents specifically to atherosclerotic plaques.
One of the problems with nanoparticles is that, well, they’re just so small, making them difficult to study. Researchers may have solved that problem by building an instrument that can detect nanoparticles as small as tens of nanometers (billionths of a meter). The research team was led by Dr. Andrew Cleland, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and included Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti. The study was published on March 7 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Most diseases begin on the cellular level, so it only makes sense to address them on that level. One approach is to use nanotechnology–incredibly small devices that could detect a disease very early in its progression or precisely target treatments to the disease, leaving healthy tissue unscathed. The UC Santa Barbara • Sanford-Burnham Center for Nanomedicine was founded to combine engineering, biology, chemistry and other disciplines to create just these sorts of devices. The Center uses cutting-edge research tools to achieve these goals, like the Allosphere, a three-story virtual reality facility where researchers can visualize anatomical structures down to the atomic level. Recently, the Center was highlighted by the online news site Noozhawk, which interviewed Center for Nanonmedicine director Dr. Jamey Marth.
“We are excited about new ways to diagnose diseases and get drugs to the right places,” Marth said. “These are all things that are needed to get a good control of and to develop the future of health care.”
Read more about the Center: UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine Plants Seeds of Economic Development in Goleta Valley.
Bike accidents, C-sections and battlefield wounds can all leave scars. But those are only the scars you can see. Any tissue can scar (not just skin), making scar tissue more than a cosmetic problem. Heart muscle, for example, can scar after a heart attack, and the lungs, kidneys, the liver, and many other tissues can be damaged by inflammation. Current options for reducing scar formation require local intervention at the scarring site – plastic surgery, for example. But what if there was a pill you could take after an injury to prevent scar tissue from forming in the first place?At Sanford-Burnham’s Center for Nanomedicine at UC Santa Barbara, Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti and his team have developed a new prototype therapy that inhibits scarring in mice. The compound contains two elements discovered by the Ruoslahti laboratory. One is a peptide that homes in on new blood vessels that form during wound healing. The other is a naturally occurring protein called decorin, which they previously showed prevents the buildup of fibrous connective tissue that causes scarring. The combination of the peptide and protein turns out to be particularly powerful.
It’s that time of year when we pause to remember what we’re thankful for. We can think of many reasons to be thankful for science. Here are the top 10:
10. says fat can be good
9. uncovers new drug targets
8. is art
7. turns disease on its head
6. finds new uses for old drugs
5. inspires kids
4. is better than science fiction
3. explains how cancer works
2. provides a “do-over”
Why are you thankful for Science? Please leave a comment below…and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Earlier this week, the public had the chance to talk one-on-one with a renowned nanomedicine expert. Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Jamey Marth hosted the online chat as a follow-up to his talk at TEDxAmericanRivierain Santa Barbara, Calif. on 10-10-2010.Dr. Marth is the director of the Center for Nanomedicine, a partnership between Sanford-Burnham and UC Santa Barbara. He is working to develop nano-sized “smart devices” that diagnose, target, treat and cure disease before it can cause symptoms and spread. This technology could lead to revolutionary treatments for diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.
The online chat attracted a record number of participants. The questions covered a range of topics within nanomedicine, showing a keen interest by the public in this fascinating field. For more info, you can read a transcript of the chat. Please join our mailing list if you are interested in hearing about future research chats.
Click below to watch Dr. Marth’s TEDx talk: “Nature, Nurture, and Nanomedicine”
TED has earned a reputation as a meeting of the minds, where the brightest of the bright share their ideas with the curious, the cultured and the cool. Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Jamey Marth, director of the Center for Nanomedicine, a partnership with the University of California, Santa Barbara, will take his place on TED’s elite roster on October 10.
In case you’re not familiar with the TED phenomenon, it began as a convention showcasing speakers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. The 15-minute presentations, known as TED Talks, then took off on the web, reaching millions who could never have attended the convention. Topics range from “Are Mushrooms the New Plastic?” to “What Physics Taught Me About Marketing.” Talks have also included performances by world-class musicians and demonstrations of jaw-dropping technology.
As Santa Barbara’s Daily Sound reports:
When asked why she came to see the center, Capps answered simply, “to be inspired.”
The Center for Nanomedicine, home to the laboratories of Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti and Dr. Jamey Marth, focuses on the convergence of biology, nanotechnology and engineering, promising a new generation of solutions that address unmet needs in medicine and human health.
Read more about the Center and Rep. Capps’ visit in the Daily Sound.
One way to inhibit a tumor’s growth is to choke off its blood supply. The trick is to create a clot that specifically blocks flow to the tumor without harming other parts of the body. To accomplish this, a research team led by Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at Sanford-Burnham, coated nanoparticles with two different homing signals that specifically direct them to proteins on tumor blood vessels. One signal was generated by a string of just five amino acids (the molecular subunits that make up a protein), while the other consisted of six amino acids. These two types of targeted nanoparticles worked cooperatively to induce blood clots, and an elongated version of these particles, called “nanoworms,” did an even better job of it. As the nanoworms induced clotting, more and more binding sites appeared, attracting more nanoworms and further enhancing the blockage.
Drs. Sumit Chanda and Erkki Ruoslahti have received write-ups at two very distinct sites. Dr. Chanda’s flu research, which was published in February in Nature, was recently highlighted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, one of the National Institutes of Health. The work, a collaboration with Mount Sinai , Salk and GNF, identified 295 human proteins and other molecules that influenza A strains must harness to infect a cell. As the article points out, the flu virus contains only 11 proteinsand must rely on our own cellular machinery to keep going. In many ways, these host factors may be better targets for treatment.
Current flu drugs are aimed directly at the influenza virus. But the flu virus mutates readily and these frequent changes allow it to gain resistance to antiviral drugs. However, if a drug were to be targeted to factor in the human host instead of being aimed directly at the virus, the pathogen’s ability to escape through mutation would be thwarted.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ruoslahti, who cofounded the Sanford-Burnham, UC Santa Barbara Center for Nanomedicine, was quoted in an article about robots at CNBC. Dr. Ruoslahti has been working with engineers at UC Santa Barbara to create nanorobots to home in on diseased cells.
“At this point, we can increase the activity of any anticancer drug by three fold or better,” he says. “We get more drug to the tumor and that makes a huge difference. If you can increase its concentration, the side effects remain the same, but the effectiveness is higher.”
One of the main reasons Drs. Erkki Ruoslahti and Jamey Marth set up labs at UC Santa Barbara was to take advantage of the university’s world-class expertise in engineering.“Because of my knowledge of homing peptides, engineers began approaching me about using this technology to help target nanoparticles,” says Dr. Ruoslahti. “I realized that molecular biology and chemistry have made great contributions to medicine, but we needed to do more. It was time to also focus on physics.”
Sanford-Burnham Distinguished Professor Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., sits in his office at UC Santa Barbara and ponders the relationship between science and science fiction. He is discussing Star Trek’s sophisticated hand-held medical devices and all they could do for patients.
“Ideally, you would like to have a device like Dr. McCoy’s that could both diagnose and treat,” says Dr. Ruoslahti. “I think eventually we will have devices like small MRI machines that can do just that.”