Crossing Boundaries: Nanotechnology and medicine team up to tackle cancer

« Washington Engineer - October 2005

UW group picked to train the next generation of cancer researchers in nanotech applications

protein2.jpg
Nanotech research on the smallest of objects, like the protein pictured above, can help researchers understand the characteristics of disease at the molecular level and could provide potent weapons for fighting deadly diseases, like cancer.

Read the news release from the National Cancer Institute

A University of Washington-led consortium is one of four groups selected nationwide under a federal program to explore nanotechnology’s applications for treating cancer, the National Cancer Institute and National Science Foundation recently announced.

The UW’s Center for Nanotechnology will receive $3.2 million over five years to support graduate student fellows in the center’s interdisciplinary nanotechnology program, according to Marjorie Olmstead, UW physics professor and lead investigator on the project. Partners in the endeavor are Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The UW Center for Nanotechnology is a multi-disciplinary venture that unites research in engineering, medicine, liberal arts and pharmacology.

Nanotechnology, which fosters the development and design of devices so tiny they must be measured on a molecular scale, has great potential for preventing, diagnosing and treating disease, including cancer. But to realize that potential, officials say, the nation needs more scientists with cross-disciplinary training in biological and physical sciences.

At the UW center, which founded the nation’s first doctoral degree program in nanotechnology, cancer-related areas of research include tumor-targeted nanobiology and the use of “quantum dots” to image tumors and other biosystems.

Other collaborative efforts, pooling interdisciplinary expertise at the UW, PNNL and the Hutchinson Center, are in the works.

“Our most important product is our graduates,” Olmstead said. “The cross-disciplinary work they do here will allow them to make seamless transitions to careers where they can push the bounds of nanotechnology research.”

Federal officials agreed, saying the intent of the awards is to develop a trained workforce that can develop a pipeline of new diagnostics and therapeutics.

“These awards represent an exciting new model for collaboration between federal agencies, that not only makes wise use of budget resources, but also opens new channels for bringing promising new technologies to bear on an important health problem that touches nearly all of us,” said NSF Deputy Director Kathie L. Olsen

The awards were granted through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT). The IGERT program is intended to facilitate greater diversity in student participation and preparation and contribute to the development of a diverse, globally engaged science and engineering workforce. The other three awards were to groups led by the University of New Mexico, Rutgers University and Northeastern University.