LA JOLLA, Calif. , June 13, 2005
The Burnham Institute has been selected as a "Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology" ("PEN") by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute ("NHLBI") of the National Institutes of Health ("NIH"). A partnership of 25 scientists from The Burnham Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, and The Scripps Research Institute will use the $13 million award to design nanotechnologies to detect, monitor, treat, and eliminate "vulnerable" plaque, the probable cause of death in sudden cardiac arrest.
Led by Jeffrey Smith, Ph.D., of the Burnham Institute and the principal investigator of the program, the scientific team is comprised of biochemists, vascular biologists, chemical engineers and physicists. "This is a novel approach to bring experts from all these fields together," said Dr. Smith. "And it’s very exciting. These groups do not normally work together. But in this instance, I think it's going to produce some real scientific progress."
Recent studies have shown that plaque exists in two modes: non-vulnerable and vulnerable. Blood passing through an artery exerts a shearing force and can cause vulnerable plaque to rupture, which often leads to occlusion and myocardial infarction. This is a significant health issue: of the nearly one million people who die each year from cardiac disease, 60% perish without showing any symptoms. As many as 60 – 80% of sudden cardiac deaths can be attributed to the physical rupture of vulnerable plaque.
"We intend to exploit this new understanding of atherosclerotic plaque," said Dr. Smith. "By focusing on devising nano-devices, which can be described as machines at the molecular level, we will specifically target vulnerable plaque. That cannot be accomplished today. My colleagues and I hope that our work will lead to real diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for those suffering from this form of cardiac disease."
The project team will work on three innovative solutions to combat vulnerable plaque; 1) building delivery vehicles that can be used to transport drugs and nanodevices to sites of vulnerable plaque; 2) designing a series of self-assembling polymers that can be used as molecular nano-stents to physic all y stabilize vulnerable plaque, 3) creating nano-machines comprised of human proteins linked to synthetic nano-devices for the purpose of sensing and responding to vulnerable plaque.
"The Programs of Excellence in Nanotechnology is a vitally important research effort that will spur the development of novel technologies to diagnose and treat heart, lung, and blood diseases," said Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., director of the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH. "The program brings together bioengineers, materials scientists, biologists, and physicians who will work in interdisciplinary teams. By taking advantage of the unique properties of materials at the nanoscale, these teams will devise creative solutions to medical problems."
PEN Director, Jeffrey Smith, Ph.D., Professor, The Burnham Institute, will oversee the Program's administrative and training components, as well as his own research component. Dr. Smith also directs the Center on Proteolytic Pathways at The Burnham Institute, recently established as one of first centers funded by the National Institute of Health's Roadmap Initiative. Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., Distinguished Scientist and former President/CEO of The Burnham Institute, using in vivo phage display technology discovered in his laboratory, will identify and develop targeting elements needed to target the delivery of nano-devices to vulnerable plaque. Dr. Ruoslahti is credited with the first successful targeted delivery of a nanomachine into live tissue, using similar strategies. Also from The Burnham Institute are William B. Stallcup, Ph.D., Professor, who will direct animal studies, and Francesca Marassi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, who will provide NMR expertise for structural studies.
Zaverio M. Ruggeri, M.D., Professor, and a world-renowned expert in vascular pathology, is collaborating from The Scripps Research Institute. The team from UC Santa Barbara will contribute unique expertise in molecular engineering and nano-fabrication. They include Matthew V. Tirrell, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Engineering and professor of chemical engineering; Andrew Cleland, Ph.D., associate professor of physics; Patrick Daugherty, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical engineering; Samir Mitragotri, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering; and Joseph Zasadzinski, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering.
In concert with the NIH's strategy to accelerate progress in medical research through innovative technology and interdisciplinary research, cardiac disease was chosen as the focus of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's recently established Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology.