Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology 

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology brings Johns Hopkins University’s faculty expertise in engineering, medicine, public health, the basic sciences, and applied physics together with nanoscience to foster breakthroughs in nanobiotechnology. Collaborations among faculty members with different backgrounds, as well as with industry, help solve problems in medicine, health, basic science, and the environment.

INBT’s research in nanoscience is focused on biological and medical science. Nanobiotechnology includes developing diagnostic and therapeutic tools for medicine and provides nanoscale solutions to problems in the basic sciences. INBT also devotes research to studying the impact of this emerging science on human health and the environment. We collaborate with industry on various applications that use nanobiotechnology to enhance the performance of homeland security technologies, drug delivery, and medical devices.


  – Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT)


Q: In which countries does your organization have a presence?

INBT’s primary presence is in the United States.

Q: How large is your organization?

The Johns Hopkins University has more than 23,000 employees. INBT is a virtual center comprised of more than 180 affiliated faculty members across several Johns Hopkins University campuses and the Applied Physics Lab. Our director, associate director and five-member administrative support team are located in Maryland Hall at the Homewood campus of The Johns Hopkins University.  

Q: Please provide a short paragraph outlining the history of your organization.  

INBT was launched on May 15, 2006 with $6 million in funding from NASA and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. INBT was also supported by the schools of engineering, medicine, public health, and arts and sciences and we are governed by an eight-member Executive Committee with representatives from all of these entities. In May 2007, we held our first symposium, which attracted more than 100 research posters and 400 attendees. Each year since, INBT has continued to grow in faculty affiliations, industry relationships, and the scope of multidisciplinary research.

Q: Explain the role of nanotechnology in the development of your organization or department.

Nanobiotechnology is the central focus of all INBT supported research efforts, educational programs, public outreach and corporate partnerships. Nanobiotechnology is, by its very nature multidisciplinary. In the basic biological sciences, INBT supports research the uses the tools of nanoscience to advance our understanding of cellular and molecular dynamics. One of the institute’s objectives is to take advantage of the university’s strength in medical science and in nanobiotechnology to solve problems at the interface of biology and medicine. Therefore, in the clinical sciences INBT supports research to develop novel methods for diagnostics and therapeutics that apply nanoscale solutions to medical problems. INBT also promotes research that fosters a better understanding of the potential impact of nanoscience and nanobiotechnology on health and the environment.

Q: What key markets do you serve?

Because INBT is part of Johns Hopkins University — one of the most well-respected and well-known research universities in the world — we serve local, regional and international markets. Three years post-launch, our research activities have generated more than $25 million in interdisciplinary funding. We support new research through a pilot program and fund more than two dozen predoctoral students from various disciplines who are conducting research in nanoscience, biology and medicine. Each summer, we host undergraduate students from across the country for a 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates program, funded by the National Science Foundation. NSF funding also sends students to Belgium for the International Research Experience for Students program. INBT supports more than two dozen predoctoral students from departments across the university with nanobiotechnology fellowships funded by the National Science Foundation and other sources. We have postdoctoral fellows supported by a National Institutes of Health fellowship who are conducting research in nanotechnology for cancer medicine. Recently, faculty began hosting high school students in collaboration with the Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore program to work as laboratory interns during the summer.

The institute serves the wider university and industrial communities through an annual nanobio symposium that draws more than 400 attendees and features more than 100 posters on nanobio research. We reach people outside the university through our comprehensive web site with searchable databases for faculty research, a nanoscience tool repository, a database of nanobio-related courses, and funding opportunities. We publish news about INBT activities and the work of affiliated faculty in a bi-monthly NanoBio Newsletter and in various media outlets, both on and off campus.   

Q: How has nanotechnology impacted the products or services you provide?

The rise of nanotechnology has enabled new collaborative and team research projects, and invigorated our Engineering curriculum.  Nanotechnology has become integrated with many of our research activities, curriculum, and faculty interests.    

Q: Has your organization made any significant contributions to nanotechnology? 

Some examples of significant research originating from INBT affiliated faculty laboratories include:

  • Jeff Wang, professor mechanical engineering, has developed a method that uses quantum dots to detect chemical modifications found on the structure of DNA. Recognizing these modifications could prove to be an early detection method for genes that code for cancer proteins.
  • Jeff Bulte, professor of radiology in the School of Medicine, is commercializing a promising therapy for type 1 diabetes. The project aims to develop microcapsules that contain human islets, the insulin producing cluster of cells in the pancreas, which will be part of a cell therapy for type 1 diabetes.
  • Researchers in the lab of David Gracias, an associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, have invented dust-particle-size devices that can grab and remove living cells from hard-to-reach places without the need for electrical wires, tubes or batteries. Instead, the devices are controlled by heat or biochemical signals.
  • Sean Sun, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has developed a method that uses magnets to measure single molecule rotational forces involved in the winding and unwinding of DNA fibers within the chromosome. Understanding these forces could help scientists predict gene regulation and provide important information on molecular targets for the development of disease-fighting drugs.
  • Peter Searson, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Denis Wirtz, professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, have invented a method that could be used to help figure out how cancer cells break free from neighboring tissue, an “escape” that can spread the disease to other parts of the body. The new lab-on-a-chip could lead to better cancer therapies.   

Q: Where do you see nanotechnology applications leading in the future?  

Nanoscience is emerging as an enabling technology in the basic biological sciences, as well as in clinical medicine.  In the biological sciences, nanoscience has resulted in new tools and techniques that have led to advances in understanding cell function and signaling.  Examples of new techniques include real-time, 3D imaging in live cells; single molecule imaging; new bioanalytical assays, such as microarrays and microfluidic devices; and new biosensors such as quantum dot-tagged antibodies.  In clinical medicine, nanoscience is beginning to have impact in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.  Over the next decade, research at the interface of nanoscience and medicine will likely contribute to significant breakthroughs in our understanding of cell biology and disease at the molecular level, and hence provide a roadmap for new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies that could revolutionize healthcare and medicine.      

Q: What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to work at your organization in 3-5 years?  

Someone interested in studying nanobiotechnology or conducting research in nanoscience should take the most advanced courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics available to them. In addition, working or volunteering in a laboratory conducting research in biology, chemistry, physics or any engineering discipline will help build the necessary skills needed to become a good researcher. Students accepted into INBT’s programs at Johns Hopkins University — whether for undergraduate or graduate school — have excellent grade point averages, laboratory experience, are focused on doing research in an academic environment, and take initiative to ask questions from mentors and faculty or seek help from the literature when they need more information.

Q:  How does your organization incorporate nanotechnology into training?   

To be a successful researcher at the interface between nanoscience and medicine, future leaders must be trained across traditional disciplinary boundaries and be conversant with developments in nanoscience and understand the scientific and clinical problems in biology and medicine.  This is a significant challenge because most universities are configured for highly specialized, disciplinary training, and are only beginning to develop strategies for interdisciplinary training. At Johns Hopkins we believe that a strong disciplinary grounding is crucial, especially in such rapidly evolving, interdisciplinary fields. Therefore, INBT has created pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training programs that build a community of researchers across traditional disciplinary boundaries, providing specialized lectures, seminars, and workshops in nanoscience and biology. Courses within disciplines are taught at the highest level. To ensure that the research is of the highest quality, students have two co-advisors, one in the physical sciences / engineering and one in the biological sciences / medicine.

Q:  What industry do you think has been impacted the most by nanotechnology thus far? Why?

Nanoscience applied to biology and medicine is in its infancy.  Thus scientific advances are only beginning to be exploited for commercial applications.  Current applications are largely confined to new tools and techniques that are used in basic science.

Q:  What industry do you think has the greatest future potential to be impacted by nanotechnology?  Why?  

The interface between nanoscience and medicine is emerging as one of the next great scientific frontiers.  There are a wide range of market sectors with a stake in nanobiotechnology, these include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, medical instrumentation, materials suppliers, chemical products, sensors, homeland security, and microelectronics.  Thus nanoscience appl

From the Jeff Bulte lab, microcapsules containing insulin producing islets and nanoparticles for imaging and tracking. (Image Credit: Bulte/JHU

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