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NIH grant to fund Nanomedicine Development Center at Illinois

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A $6.2 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will fund the establishment of a Nanomedicine Development Center to be directed by Eric G. Jakobsson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The award was part of a grant package of about $43 million for four advanced national centers in nanomedicine announced for this year under the NIH’s New Pathways to Discovery Program. The NIH program began in 2003 as a “Roadmap for Medical Research” initiative to spur medical research discoveries from bench to bedside. The other centers will be at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the University of California at San Francisco, and Columbia University in New York City.

The broad goal of the Illinois center – called the National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors – is to develop a technology that combines silicon wafers with biological or biomimetic transport molecules as a foundation for devices that accomplish many of the functions of biological membranes.

Initially, Jakobsson and colleagues plan to design a biocompatible, sustainable power source for the artificial retina developed at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California. Such bio-batteries could power a wide range of implantable devices.

In addition to the University of Southern California, the other collaborating institutions are the University of California at Davis, Illinois Institute of Technology, Oxford University, Purdue University, Sandia National Laboratory, University of Chicago, University of New Mexico, Wabash College and Yale University.

The leadership and administration of the center will take place at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

“The technology our center is based on has its proof of concept in nature itself,” said Jakobsson, a professor in the department of molecular and integrative physiology and at the Beckman Institute. “We now understand on a molecular level how biological membranes organize themselves into cell-sized electrical power sources, electrical signaling devices, pumps, and devices that convert one form of energy into another.

“It is now time to translate that knowledge into the design of devices that can address a variety of needs in medicine and industry,” said Jakobsson, who also is a senior research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois.

All of the national centers will combine work of researchers from different institutions to conduct novel, multidisciplinary research that could speed the development of engineered, highly specific diagnostic tools and therapeutics that could help them to better understand and treat a multitude of human diseases. In each of the centers, the goal is to translate underlying biological knowledge into nanoscale technologies for medicine.

Funding for the National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors was distributed by the NIH’s National Eye Institute, which administers Roadmap grants from combined funding pooled by all of the NIH institutes and centers.