By M. Abraham
An interdisciplinary team of scientists from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering has secured a prestigious federal grant from the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research initiative aimed at improving nanomedical research. Their discoveries could enhance methods of curing diseases like cancer as well as viral infections at the molecular scale.
The nanomedicine grant, with a proposed budget of $7 million, will support the new NIH Nanomedicine Development Center for Cell Control, to be led by UCLA Engineering professor Chih-Ming Ho.
The center will apply advanced engineering techniques and life science knowledge to control and investigate how the human body works at the most basic level. The cells of the human body are composed of millions of molecules. Researchers aim to control the interactions of these molecules in an effort to help doctors create cures for diseases based on how the body’s cells actually function.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead this important multidisciplinary and multi-campus effort. This center boasts a collaborative team with key strengths in both engineering and medicine — a critical combination in nanomedicine,” said Ho, who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and holder of the Ben Rich-Lockheed Martin endowed chair. “By taking the unorthodox approach of directly controlling the molecular circuitries in cells, we hope to help effect critical changes in the treatment of disease.”
The center’s research could ultimately aid in accelerating the development of novel medicine for diseases that do not respond to current medical treatments. One application will be the investigation of an optimal drug cocktail to better manage disease development, as well as mapping the molecular events that trigger stem cells to differentiate into specific cell types.
Besides Ho, a specialist in the use of nanotechnology to analyze and control regulatory circuitries of the cell, members of the research team at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA include Dr. Hong Wu, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and a specialist in cancer and stem cells; Dr. Michael Teitell, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, a cancer specialist and chief of pediatric and developmental pathology; and Dr. Genhong Cheng, professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and an expert in studying host defense against infectious diseases and cancers. Hong, Teitell and Cheng also are members of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
From UC Berkeley, members include Ming Wu, professor of electrical engineering and co-director of the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, and Xiang Zhang, Chancellor’s Professor in mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano Manufacturing.
The group of investigators has developed a strong track record of interdisciplinary research collaboration over the past decade. The team will work with other NIH nanomedicine development centers toward world-class advancements in nanomedical research.
“This grant puts UCLA and UC Berkeley among an elite group of universities that are recognized as leaders in nano research,” said UCLA engineering dean Vijay K. Dhir. “We expect this new center will build upon UCLA Engineering’s research and education capabilities and further expand collaborative efforts with medicine to achieve exciting advances in nanomedicine.”
Gerald S. Levey, M.D., vice chancellor of medical sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA said, “UCLA is successful not only because our faculty and staff are among the most highly skilled in the world, but also because as a team our strength far exceeds the sum of its parts. The Nanomedicine Center will strengthen the collaborative ties that already exist between researchers in engineering and medicine. Together we will continue to push the boundaries of scientific research.”
“California’s great colleges and universities have led many ground-breaking initiatives individually,” said UC Berkeley Engineering dean A. Richard Newton. “But this new center illustrates the growing importance of close collaboration among our top-notch researchers at different UC campuses for the benefit of the state. This is very much the kind of synergistic and forward-thinking research required to compete effectively in a world that thrives on innovation.”
Funding for the multidisciplinary and multi-institutional center comes from an NIH Health Roadmap for Medical Research grant. The goal of the five-year grant is to encourage bio-medical researchers and engineers to build upon existing nanotechnologies to design new technologies to understand the interaction of complex biological systems in health and disease.
UCLA Engineering is uniquely positioned to perform nanomedicine research because it can draw on a talented interdisciplinary team of engineers and scientists — all on one campus — with expertise in medical pathology, microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics and nanotechnology, in addition to engineering.