2019 Nano-Bio Report

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Contents research   6 Research for a New Decade   8 Creating a Vascular Graft in One-Week or Less 10

Predicting Metastasis with Cell Behavior, Not Genetics


Self-Healing DNA Nanostructures


Fueling Cell Movement


For the Researcher’s Bookshelf


Faculty Awards

Editor Gina Wadas Graphic Designer Maureen Punte Contributing Writers Luke Thorstenson, Gina Wadas, Amy Weldon, and Chris Yankaskas Photograph and/or Design Contributors Doug Behr, Yun Chen, Morgan Elliott, Kalina Hristova, Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, Yi Li, Amanda Placone, Rebecca Schulman, Sean Sun, Gina Wadas, and David Wilson Send comments and feedback to:

translation 16 Collaboration is Key to Achieving Translational Goals 17 Does My Invention Solve Real World Problems? 19 Co-Op Trains Students Outside of the Classroom

Johns Hopkins University Institute for NanoBioTechnology Suite 100, Croft Hall 3400 North Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21218 inbt@jhu.edu 410-516-5634 inbt.jhu.edu Follow INBT on social media:

education 20

Young Investigators Awards


Siebel Scholars


Alumni Ever After


Postbac Program for Advanced Training


Student Distribution

outreach 26 Translation of Nano & Bio Research: Highlights of the 13th Annual Nano-Bio Symposium 28 Excellence in Summer Research Training 30 INBT Supports Baltimore

Kalina Hristova’s team studies proteins called growth factors, which control cell development and are implicated in many cancers. Here, fluorescently labeled growth factors bind to their receptors in the cell membrane to trigger biochemical reactions.

Letter from the Directors The INBT is a community, and like a community, everyone’s role is essential for us to be successful. We built a community of dedicated staff, faculty, students, collaborators, and supporters passionate about what the INBT strives to accomplish. Together, we experienced another tremendous year of growth and achievements, which we are happy to share with you in the 2019 Nano-Bio Report. We are pleased to welcome new advisory board members to this community whom are highly accomplished leaders in research and industry.Their thoughtful insights and advice will help us pave new roads to take the INBT into a new decade. Our work in research and training the next generation of scientists and engineers is thriving. By working at many stages of research, from basic science to implementation of research into practice, we have positioned ourselves to keep making incredible strides in pushing research boundaries. We continue to build teams amalgamated with different research experts in science, the medical community, and industry, which is the core culture that the INBT was founded on and how we approach challenges. The motivation for our research is to address grand challenges in improving human health and wellbeing, and sustaining our environment. Our sustained successes in research positions us to strategically expand our translation initiatives of transferring that research from the lab to the marketplace and bedside.We are supporting our faculty by bolstering our translation activities through identifying support and training on entrepreneurship, manufacturing, intellectual property filing, and licensing strategies, to name a few. The purpose and mission of the INBT is embodied in our community and what drives us forward. As we move into another year and a new decade, we are implementing changes and strategies to meet evolving needs. And we look forward to sharing those changes in 2020.

Sharon Gerecht Director

Hai-Quan Mao Associate Director

“ The INBT is a community, and like a community, everyone’s role is essential for us to be successful.”

4  advisory board

Meet Our New Advisory Board In 2019, the INBT formed a new advisory board comprised of professionals and academics from various prestigious backgrounds. The new board members have decades of experience and invaluable insight on topics ranging from academia to trends in industry research. With such a talented and accomplished group of experts we look forward to the growth the INBT will see under the careful guidance of the newly formed advisory board.

Charles Goldstein—Chair Since his retirement from Becton Dickinson (BD) in 2016 as Senior Vice President of Research & Development, Charles Goldstein has been serving as a strategic advisor and angel investor for companies in the healthcare industry. While at BD, Goldstein’s leadership resulted in many new commercialized medical devices and diagnostic products whose annual sales total in the billions. He championed new innovation sources that included start-up incubators in the US and Singapore. Goldstein was responsible for BD’s Technology Leadership Development Program, and served as Chairman of the Board for an incubator in Singapore that was a joint venture between BD and Johns Hopkins Medicine. He currently serves on several boards in both industry and academia, including the Advisory Board for JHU’s Whiting School of Engineering, and received the distinguished alumni service award from Johns Hopkins University. Goldstein has a BChE from the City University of New York, an MSE from Johns Hopkins University, and PhD and MA from Princeton University.

Neil Cohen Neil Cohen is the Founder and Chairman of Emerald Development Managers LP. He is also the co-founder, co-CEO, and member of the Executive Committee of American Rock Salt Company LLC since its formation in 1996. Cohen holds an MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a Bachelors of Engineering Sciences in Mathematical Sciences from Johns Hopkins University. Currently, Cohen serves on the Board of Directors of Proscia Inc. as well as the advisory boards of the Whiting School of Engineering at JHU and the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Neil and his wife, Sherry, established the Cohen Translational Engineering Fund at Johns Hopkins University.

advisory board 5

Donna See Donna See previously served as Chief Business Officer of Allied-Bristol Life Sciences, a $110m therapeutic development effort lead by Allied Minds and Bristol-Myers Squibb. She also served as Vice President of Investments at Allied Minds, a publicly traded (LSE:ALM) seed investor and company builder. Prior to that, See co-founded and steered the sale of Vixen Pharmaceuticals, a company dedicated to the treatment of autoimmune skin disorders and was a Director at Columbia Technology Ventures where she helped found a biomedical accelerator fund. See received her MBA from Columbia University and BA from Johns Hopkins University.

David Kaplan David Kaplan is the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University and holds faculty appointments in the School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His research is focused on biopolymer engineering and understanding structure-function relationships, specifically, self-assembly, biomaterials engineering, and functional tissue engineering/ regenerative medicine. Kaplan has a BS from SUNY at Albany and a PhD from Syracuse University and SUNY at Syracuse.

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic is a professor at Columbia University and a Mikati Foundation professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences. She heads Columbia University’s laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering and is also a member of the faculty at the Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Human Development.Vunjak-Novakovic is an honorary professor at the University of Novi Sad and the University of Belgrade and serves as an adjunct professor for Tufts University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Her research is focused on engineering human tissues for regenerative medicine, stem cell research, and modeling of disease.Vunjak-Novakovic received her BS, MS, and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Belgrade in Serbia.

6 research

Research for a New Decade The Institute for NanoBioTechnology is moving into a new decade, and with that comes new directions for our research initiatives. While changes are on the horizon, at our core, INBT still believes that efficient solutions to healthcare and the environment are more easily achieved by working together. For this reason, we foster an environment and culture where collaboration is key. By building teams comprising people from science, engineering, medicine, public health, and so forth, we create amazing results. For example, experts in stem cell engineering, biomaterials, surgery, vascular mechanics, and vascular disease, can create a vascular graft in less than a week (see pages 8–9). And when experts in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and theoretical modeling and mathematics work together, solutions for measuring cell metabolic activity can be developed. (see pages 12–13). INBT is known as an interdisciplinary research hub, but we are really an

interdisciplinary solution hub. Whether we are creating or adapting tools, materials, processes, procedures, or investigating unanswered questions, it is all grounded in collaboration.

research 7

The INBT has over

INBT faculty researchers include Warren Grayson and Daniele Gilkes.


Faculty Researchers from


Hopkins Schools

In 2019 the INBT… hosted


seminar and symposium speakers increased our research grant submissions by

20% comprised


of all sponsored expenses at the Whiting School of Engineering.

Seminar speakers included Natalie Artzi assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Capt. (Dr.) Hassan Tetteh chief medical informatics officer, United States Navy.

8 research

Creating a Vascular Graft in One-Week or Less Researchers may be closer to improving the lives of people with coronary artery disease (CAD) and children born with pediatric congenital cardiovascular defects (CCD) through the development of a new vascular graft that takes less than one week to make and has regenerative properties. CAD is the leading cause of death world-

wide and people with the disease often require surgery to repair damaged cardiovascular tissue. CCD occurs in 1% of live births worldwide, and those with the con-

dition often undergo repeated surgical reconstruction as they grow. To improve surgical practices and reduce the number of surgeries a person with CAD or CCD may need, a vascular graft that encourages new tissue formation with better mechanical properties that mimic natural arteries is needed. Sharon Gerecht, director of the INBT, and Morgan Elliott, a doctoral candidate, led a team of scientists in creating a natural graft that takes less than one week to prepare, dissolves as healthy tissue

research 9 tein that helps tissues retain its shape after stretching. The sheets are then rolled in an alternating pattern to create a hollow tube, which is dehydrated and stored for later use. Once rehydrated, the graft’s exterior is reinforced with a poly(ε-caprolactone), or PCL, sheath. For emergency needs, grafts can be implanted immediately after rehydration. For patients with chronic vascular disease who know they will eventually need surgery, their stem cells can be collected and embedded on the graft before implantation.

grows in its place, and can withstand the repetitive contraction and relaxation cycle a beating hearts puts on arteries and veins. “Our goal was to combine our patented electrospinning technology and stem cells to create a novel vascular graft that decreases fabrication time significantly, even more than grafts moving through clinical trials, while also decreasing clotting and enhancing tissue regeneration,” says Elliott. The electrospinning process produces thin fiber threads by applying an electrical charge and mechanical pulling to the fibrin polymer. The team chose fibrin for their graft because it is a natural polymer made by the body that prevents blood clotting, encourages new tissue formation, and increases elastin production. Elastin is a pro-

The team created small vascular grafts 0.6 mm in diameter and 3–5 mm long with and without stem cells. After six months, both graft types showed no evidence of clotting, new tissue formed from inside the graft outward, and the grafts were able to maintain mechanical properties similar to healthy vasculature. The grafts encouraged elastin production, which has typically been a challenge in the field. It was also found that the graft mediated regeneration and the stem cells enhanced the regeneration process. The positive results show that their graft technology has clinical and commercial potential. The team plans to assess the graft’s shelf life and test a larger diameter graft. Gerecht and Elliott say that this research is the result of scientists from five labs bringing together their expertise in stem cell engineering, biomaterials, surgery, vascular mechanics, and vascular disease. “We are committed to further developing our small-diameter vascular graft platform technology to benefit patients,” Gerecht says.

10 research

Predicting Metastasis with Cell Behavior, Not Genetics iors. To that end, he led a team of researchers in the creation of the Microfluidic Assay for Quantification of Cell Invasion (MAqCI). MAqCI is a diagnostic tool and method that predicts breast cancer metastasis by looking at cell motility, the measure of how capable cells are of traveling to distant sites within the body, and proliferation, the measure of how much they are multiplying. The team’s research shows that MAqCI, (pronounced mak-see), is accurate, sensitive, and specific enough to predict if a breast cancer population will metastasize. The technology’s small sample sizes, ability to deliver results within one to two days, and ability to isolate affected cells for further characterization exemplifies its potential for clinical use. MAqCI identifies aggressive breast cancer cells (in purple) based on their ability to move from a feeder channel into narrower channels.

Researchers and clinicians don’t fully understand why some cancers spread and others do not. What they do know is that when cancer does spread, it dramatically decreases survival rates. If physicians could predict the likelihood that primary tumors will metastasize, they would be able to help patients choose the best treatment options. However, current testing only looks at tumor genetics, which can mutate and change.

Since MAqCI testing looks at cells’ observable characteristics, the results are relatively simple and easy to interpret, unlike genetic screening. This behavioral approach to assessing the likelihood that cancer cells will spread offers a simpler, more effective way of making a prediction.

“MAqCI has the potential to diagnose a tumor’s metastatic propensity and screen therapeutics that target metastasis-initiating cells on a patient-specific basis for personalized medicine,” Konstantopoulos said. “We are currently testing our assay to predict survival Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, INBT core re- expectancy of brain cancer patients. We besearcher, wondered if he could predict metas- lieve that MAqCI will be a great tool for diagtasis by looking at the cancer cell’s phenotype, nosis, prognosis, and precision care of patients or observable cell characteristics and behav- with solid tumors.”

research 11

DNA nanostructures can be assembled into many shapes for medical purposes (left), but natural enzymes degrade them (center). By adding smaller DNA “tiles” to the building solution, they replace the damaged areas and stabilize the structure (right).

Self-Healing DNA Nanostructures DNA may be widely known for carrying ge-

netic instructions in our cells, but it is also a resourceful material for nanofabrication. Because of their biocompatibility and mechanical flexibility, researchers can create DNA nanostructures that can be assembled into various shapes for many uses. In medicine, DNA nanostructures have the potential to help diagnose diseases and deliver medications. However, there are also many challenges in using them. One of the difficulties researchers face is that naturally occurring enzymes in the body and in cell cultures degrade the DNA nanostructures before they can complete their purpose, commonly within 24 hours. Thus, researchers are experimenting to find methods to stabilize them. Current methods, such as coating and chemically modifying the structures, can be expensive and compromise the structure’s biocompatibility. Rebecca Schulman, associate faculty member at INBT, along with doctoral student Yi Li, may be on the right track by taking a self-repairing strategy.

Schulman and Li developed a DNA nanostructure, specifically a nanotube, that can self-heal from the damage caused by natural nuclease enzymes. They built DNA nanotubes in a serum that contained smaller DNA “tiles” and then exposed it to nuclease. As the nuclease degraded the nanotube, the smaller “tiles” counteracted the degradation processes by replacing damaged structures and repairing the nanostructure. Their self-repairing method increased the structures’ lifespan from 24 hours to over 96 hours. When Schulman and Li analyzed their method in a computer model, it showed that the lifespan of the DNA nanotubes could possibly extend further by months or longer. DNA nanotubes have a lot of potential in their ability to carry drugs and have been used in tissue engineering to build scaffolds that facilitate new tissue formation. Schulman and Li’s work is bringing researchers one step closer to using DNA nanostructures to improve medical treatments and quality of life for patients.

12 research

One cancer line Sun and his team studies is MDA-MB231 (shown above), a metastatic breast cancer cell that is highly aggressive with limited treatment options for patients.

Fueling Cell Movement Cars require fuel, or energy, to move and get people from one destination to another. How much fuel the car will need though depends on many factors. Cars consume fuel based on their engine and body design, but the environment outside of the car also influences fuel consumption, like terrain, wind, temperature, and road conditions. Like cars, cells need to metabolize energy to move. How a cell metabolizes its fuel, adenosine triphosphate, is determined by environmental factors outside of the cell. But how much energy a cell consumes to generate movement has never been studied in detail because measuring the metabolic activity of a single cell is extremely difficult.

“Nobody buys a car by just looking under the hood—you buy it by the overall specs of the car like size, mpg (miles per gallon), etc. And when we look around there is very little measurement of performance factors like mpg for cells,” said Sean Sun, INBT core faculty member and professor of mechanical engineering. While cells are not mechanical machines, they share similar characteristics and can exhibit machine-like behavior. Knowing what a cell needs to generate forces and perform mechanical functions can help researchers understand cell movement. “A lot of biological research is like taking a car apart, naming the parts, and deciphering what each part does,” said Sun. So rather than study

research 13 the activity as individual parts inside a cell, Sun and his colleagues want to know what determines the overall “mpg” of cell movement, and

Sun’s goal is to utilize new information about cell metabolic activity to further understand cancer physics, specifically, metastasis. His research can assist in locating weak points in

“ ...when we look around there is very little measurement of performance factors like mpg for cells.”

what external factors influence energy require- cancer cells and their processes, which could ments for cell movement using the framework potentially lead to better treatment methods of energy balance and computational modeling. for patients. Cells move using different motility mechanisms depending on their environment. Sun’s team looked at two movement mechanisms— actin-driven and water-driven. In actin-driven movements, cells move similar to an inchworm by anchoring themselves to surrounding surfaces to push themselves forward. In water-driven movements (also called osmotic engine) cells move like jet engines, by pulling fluid in and expelling fluid out behind it to move forward. Each movement was analyzed in different fluid environments, characterized by the hydraulic resistance of the environment. Hydraulic resistance depends on viscosity and geometry of the microenvironment. Viscosity relates to the “thickness” of the environment. For example, it is harder to move through honey than water.

The next step is to experimentally measure cell metabolic activity with his colleague Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, INBT core faculty member and chemical and biomolecular engineering professor. Konstantopoulos also studies They found that actin-driven movement is cancer metastasis and their physical environinefficient in high hydraulic resistant envi- ments using microfluidic devices that mimic ronments because more energy is required, cancer cell’s microenvironment. whereas water-driven movements become “Designing and conducting experiments can more efficient. It seems the best strategy for take a long time, and this is where theoretical cell movement using the least amount of ener- modeling and mathematics can help by offering gy depends on the cell’s external environment. new directions to explore and study biologiCell movement energy efficiency is also deter- cal processes, physiology, development, and so mined by their cell shape and their membrane’s forth. It can help us determine if we are going water permeability. in the right, or wrong, direction,” said Sun.

14 research

For the Researcher’s Bookshelf Mechanics of Biological Systems: Introduction to Mechanobiology and Experimental Techniques By Yun Chen and Seungman Park Mechanical engineers Yun Chen and Seungman Park created a textbook introducing researchers to the mechanical properties of biological systems, specifically, at three length scales—molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. Thanks to advances in biophysics and bioengineering, biomechanical research at the cellular and molecular level has soared, bringing new knowledge to the field. In the book, Chen, an INBT associate researcher, and Park, a postdoctoral fellow, explain these properties and how they govern essential biological processes. They describe how to measure them and teach the reader about operational definitions in mechanics, such as force, stress, elasticity, and viscosity.

Hypoxia and Cancer Metastasis By Daniele Gilkes, Editor and Contributing Author Daniele Gilkes’s research focuses on the role hypoxia plays in breast cancer. Hypoxia refers to low amounts or the absence of oxygen in body tissues. Hypoxic environments can be found in most solid tumors and research shows hypoxia increases the risk of cancer metastasizing and cancer treatment failures. Created for researchers at all levels, this book provides clarity and a comprehensive understanding of the role hypoxia plays in cancer metastasis. Since 90% of cancer related deaths occur once metastasis occurs, Gilkes, an INBT associate researcher, hopes that the book encourages the development of matched biomarkers and therapeutics for cancers in which hypoxia plays a detrimental role.

research 15

Faculty Awards Sharon Gerecht Sharon Gerecht, director of the INBT, Kent Gordon Croft Investment Management Faculty Scholar, and professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was among 90 new members selected to join the National Academy of Medicine. Membership recognizes individuals who exemplify outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service in the medical sciences, health care, and public health. Gerecht was elected for her work on the interactions between stem cells and their microenvironments and for engineering artificial cell microenvironments capable of guiding vascular differentiation, delivery, and regeneration of tissues.

Rebecca Schulman Rebecca Schulman, an INBT associate faculty member, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  Schulman is an expert in developing programmable, active devices that self-assemble from DNA. Her research group focuses on molecular electronic devices and tools for biological and biophysical research.

Denis Wirtz Denis Wirtz, co-founder and core member of INBT, vice provost for research, and Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was elected a foreign member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium. Comprising 70 members, the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium was founded in 1841, and Wirtz is the first engineer and non-MD to be elected. Wirtz studies the molecular and biophysical mechanisms of cell motility and adhesion and nuclear dynamics in health and disease, with a special focus on aging, cancer, and progeria.

16 translation

Collaboration is Key to Achieving Translational Goals

By Luke Thorstenson The translation of research from discovery to invention and eventually to the market has always been a major focus for the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). Because INBT has a diverse range of research topics, we continue to expand our translational programming and support to meet the needs of our faculty, fellows, and students. The three main translational goals for our Corporate Partnership Office are to identify potential industry partners to fund and/or collaborate on sponsored research opportunities for our faculty (or license existing patents), provide education and training for the commercialization of discoveries and/or inventions, and secure funding to create new companies. To accomplish these goals, we work closely with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV). JHTV was launched in 2014 to support the translation of Johns Hopkins University’s (JHU) academic excellence into commercial applications. It was because of this close working relationship that we brought JHTV’s

senior leadership, Christy Wyskiel and Brian Stansky, to INBT in November to participate in the first INBT Translational Research Seminar. Wyskiel serves as Senior Advisor to the President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Stansky is Senior Director of FastForward, a coordinated suite of resources designed to efficiently move technologies from startup to marketplace. During the seminar Wyskiel and Stansky detailed how JHTV provides funding, space, and resources to maximize the impact of JHU research through commercialization and entrepreneurship. INBT’s Corporate Partnership Office works

closely with any faculty interested in starting their own company through a new structure that breaks the JHU/JHTV programs down into three distinct phases—enrichment, improvement, and scale. Our talented staff and advisory board members provide one-on-one support to help our faculty create a plan and use resources available to them as Johns Hopkins investigators. Through our support, and close coordination with the great staff at JHTV, we hope to de-mystify the process and give our faculty’s technology the best chance to succeed and make a real impact for the world. The full translational program is being finalized and we plan to release it in summer 2020. One often overlooked aspect of translational research is the customer discovery process. Years ago, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hired a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur to help determine why many of the projects they funded never made it to the mar-

translation 17 ket. The short answer was that products and services were being created that the market did not value.The NSF grantees were developing products, tools, and/or solutions without learning who their potential customers might be, or how they might best be adopted in the real world by users. To address this issue, the NSF created the Innovation-Corps (I-Corps) program to get researchers out of their labs to discover more about potential customers and potential uses for their technology. JHU fully embraced the I-Corps program and

now serves as a regional hub for the nation-

al program. The regional program is based on the same principals as the national program, but it is shorter in length. The goal of this shorter course is to validate a specific problem or need and to determine what products or services could address this need, while longer courses include further steps to develop a business model around solving that specific problem. The regional I-Corps program is one of the first programs we encourage our students and faculty to participate in once they start thinking about commercializing their research.

Does My Invention Solve Real World Problems? had been achieved and daunted by the path ahead towards clinical development and implementation, which is why I enrolled in the JHTV I-Corps course.

By Chris Yankaskas, PhD After publishing a paper on the development of a microfluidic assay to predict breast cancer patients’ risk of developing metastasis and to identify effective therapeutics, I asked, “what next?” (Go to page 10 to learn more about this research). Having spent years working on a translational project, I was excited by what

The course’s main goal is to ensure that the problem of interest is real and solvable. Elizabeth Good Mazhari was my instructor and has a long resume of working with and for tech startup companies and ventures, and is a National Faculty I-Corps Instructor for NSF and NIH. To obtain wide and objective views on my problem of interest, she covered how to conduct interviews to test hypotheses about market problems and conditions with the people I think are experiencing the problem—in my case, chiefly oncologists. I admittedly have not spent a lot of time talking to clinicians who experience the problem that my research works to solve, and did

18 translation not have a list of oncologists I could interview. Fortunately, being an INBT researcher gave me a head start. My first few interviews were with physician-scientists I had worked with in the past, and through introductions made by Luke Thorstenson, the INBT Director of Corporate Partnerships. From there I gained momentum. In each interview I asked for names of people in the field who might be useful to contact, and used those referrals to get in touch with new people. After four-weeks, I had a better understanding of how clinicians diagnose cancer, how the oncology, pathology, and surgical teams involved in the problem I was addressing work together, and what factors make a physician willing to order a diagnostic test. I also realized that there was a lot more to learn. I

was working on a very valid and real problem, but one that was very complex. I was able to refine my research and development steps to fill in the knowledge gaps. It was helpful to learn how an engineering research project transfers into a business model. Talking directly to potential end-users of a product I was developing gave helpful guidance and future milestones to achieve. In addition to project planning, the program had many ancillary benefits. The 20 to 30-minute conversations I had with clinicians were invaluable compared to reading on my own in advancing my understanding of the clinical environment and decision making. I made connections with practitioners who I can contact in the future with questions, and identified some potential research collaborations. 

Translational Achievements by INBT Faculty (2015–2019)


Invention Disclosures


New Companies Formed


Patents Granted


Patents Licensed

19 translation

Companies with Co-Op Training Opportunities AstraZeneca Baltimore Aircoil Company Becton Dickinson Bristol-Myers Squibb Ethicon Biosurgery (Johnson & Johnson) GEA GlaxoSmithKline Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory New York Stem Cell Foundation Paragon Bioservices Regeneron W.R. Grace

Co-Op Trains Students Outside of the Classroom The Masters Cooperative (Co-Op) Education Program offered through INBT, now in its fourth year, has continued to see growth in student and company participation. Unlike traditional master’s programs that offer a course or research-based curriculum, the Co-Op offers a third choice of working full-time with a company in a field of the students’ choosing for six months. During that time, students receive a salary and earn college credit toward their degree. The Co-Op provides students the opportunity to apply engineering theories they learn in class to industry work in a professional setting, and to gain skills no textbook can offer. They are matched with a project related to their field and interests, which could include pharmaceuticals, biotech products, specialty materials and chemicals for products, systems engineering, and more. Since expanding the program last year to include mechanical engineering students, Luke Thorstenson, the INBT Director of Corporate Partnerships, has amassed a vast list of training opportunities for students in the surrounding Baltimore area and along the East Coast. The program continues to offer opportunities to students in the Materials Science and Engineering Department and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department. This collaboration between the company, school, and the students benefits all involved. The students jump start their career with valuable experience, companies have access to a new pool of applicants and receive assistance on projects, and the school strengthens its bond with their counterparts in industry. INBT hopes to see the Masters Cooperative Education Program continue to grow, recruiting more students and expanding to new fields of research and the list of participating companies.

20 education

John Hickey (left) and Michael Blatchley (right).

Young Investigators Awards John Hickey and Michael Blatchley, both May 2019 PhD graduates, were recognized for their outstanding research contributions by the Young Investigators Day Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Hickey received the Hans J. Prochaska Award and Blatchely received the Paul Talalay Award. Each award carries a distinct honor and specific history to the legacy of biomedical research at Johns Hopkins. Hickey’s research involves engineering next-generation biomaterials to create more effective cancer immunotherapies through control of particle and hydrogel biomaterial

properties. Specifically, he wants to target and activate rare tumor-specific T cells by creating artificial cells and lymph node-like environments from these materials. Blatchley uses engineered biomaterials to study how human blood vessels form in a laboratory setting. This biomimetic platform helps identify potential therapeutic targets to promote and inhibit vascular regeneration to treat cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively, and to enhance our understanding of how to best construct vascular networks to build functional tissues.

education 21

Siebel Scholars Siebel scholarships are prestigious awards that honor about 100 of the top graduate students nationwide in business, bioengineering, computer science, and energy science programs. Recipients receive a $35,000 award based on their outstanding academic performance and leadership. The 2020 recipients include three students from the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. All three recipients are PhD candidates in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and include Morgan Elliott, David Wilson, and Chrissy O’Keefe. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death and results in over half a million coronary artery bypass surgeries each year. To help these patients, Elliott’s research is to improve the clinical and commercial application of small-diameter tissue-engineered vascular grafts, which has become increasingly complex to fabricate. She and her team are now working to validate these grafts in a large animal study (Go to pages 8–9 to learn more about this research). Wilson’s research has him engineering materials for the safe and effective delivery of genetic cargoes to treat a wide range of human diseases from cancer to genetic disorders. The materials he invented are currently being used in preclinical studies for novel cancer therapies, treatment of retinal diseases, and for delivery of innovative vaccine platforms. O’Keefe and her team develop technology to identify rare indicators of disease, especially cancer. They have developed a platform that can detect when part of a person’s DNA starts to deviate from its normal state. She uses microfluidic technologies to increase the sensitivity of these tests so that even rare disease molecules in a simple blood sample could be detected.   Morgan Elliott (top), David Wilson (middle), and Chrissy O’Keefe (bottom).

22 education

Amanda Levy Placone (left) and Jesse Placone (right) with their daughter Kyla (center).

Alumni Ever After Some may say fate brought together INBT and Materials Science and Engineering Department’s (DMSE) alums Jesse Placone ’13 and Amanda Levy Placone ’16, but they’ll tell you it was the annual DMSE softball game. Levy Placone’s own parents met while attending Johns Hopkins as undergraduates in the early 1980s and in 2014, the tradition was passed on when Jesse and Amanda said “I do.” While working in different disciplines, the couple is still immersed in the field which brought them together (the science, not the softball field). Mentored by Kalina Hristova, core faculty member at the INBT, Placone studied thermodynamics of receptor tyrosine kinases dimerization. Levy Placone was mentored by Peter Searson, core faculty member and co-founder of the INBT, and studied the effect of astrocyte activation on the progression of brain cancer. The INBT caught up with these alums to see how their careers have developed since graduating.

projects across a range of therapeutic areas. I enjoy applying my scientific knowledge and problem-solving abilities while learning new knowledge in medical science and the life sciences industry. Placone:

I am an assistant professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. I am excited to establish their new Biomedical Engineering Program. I develop 3D printed bone mimetics for assessing cancer meINBT: Where are you currently working? tastasis, specifically assessing cell-cell and Levy Placone: I’m a senior consultant at Gui- cell-substrate interactions. I make decisions dehouse working on projects for clients in that impact curriculum design and foster the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. undergraduate learning. Our new facilities I started working in July 2019 and it’s been are under construction and I’m helping dereally interesting to work on a variety of sign research and learning spaces to facilitate

education 23 undergraduate engagement in research from the ground up.



Levy Placone:

Tell us about your career path since you graduated. Levy Placone: I

was a postdoc for almost three years in a collaborative industry/academia lab at GlaxoSmithKline’s Center for Translational Neuroscience at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego. I was tasked with setting up a lab from scratch and to help develop the research plan. After the initial setup period, I mostly researched the effects of potential therapeutics for microglia inflammatory response. While there I realized that I enjoyed the research planning phase, but the bench work was far less interesting. I decided life science consulting would be a good fit for my skills and interests where I could be involved in the science without doing lab work. Placone:

I knew that I wanted to become a faculty member working on cancer and the bone microenvironment. However, I knew that I needed to differentiate myself from my previous work. I pivoted for my first postdoctoral position to learn more about 3D printing. I leveraged my materials science background to develop new materials for 3D printing applications in John Fisher’s lab at the University of Maryland. To strengthen my expertise in stem cell work, I then moved to Adam Engler’s lab at the University of California, San Diego. There, I continued my work on endothelial cells derived from iPSCs, and supplemented it with work on mechanotransduction in cancer biology.

How has your training at INBT helped you with your career? The INBT collaborative nature helped me to understand fields outside of my own. Collaborating with other engineers, biologists, and clinicians showed me the broader picture much better than if I had only interacted with people in my field. Learning more about these fields, and how to communicate with a range of individuals and scientific backgrounds, has been extremely valuable to my career. Placone:

The INBT provided training that was helpful in disseminating knowledge to those outside of my research niche. The ability to effectively communicate with interdisciplinary teams has proven beneficial when working with clinicians in my postdoc positions. INBT:

What career advice do you have for potential or current students? Levy Placone:

I remember hearing someone say that the most important thing in a PhD was learning how to think. Learning how to ask the right questions and draw connections between seemingly disparate elements has proved invaluable in my career since my PhD training. I’ve since repeated this bit of wisdom to anyone who asks about getting a PhD. Placone:

Foster collaborations between research groups where there is overlap with your PhD. Bringing in external knowledge will greatly aid in overcoming challenges you experience throughout your academic experience. The insight of others trained in different fields can help shift your perspective and overcome old problems in new ways.

Go to inbt.jhu.edu/news to read the full Q&A with Amanda Levy Placone and Jesse Placone.

24 education

Morgan Nance (left) former Rosetta Commons participant, Jeff Gray (center), Director of the Rosetta Commons Program, and Rebecca Alford (right), PhD candidate and Rosetta Commons mentor.

Postbac Program for Advanced Training Post baccalaureate, or postbac, programs offer advanced training for people who completed an undergraduate degree and plan to work toward a second bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. Through INBT’s Rosetta Commons Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, INBT began offering a new postbac program.

pursue further academic training. In addition to research, scholars participate in weekly lab meetings, attend seminars, and have “mini-thesis” meetings.

Similar to the REU program, scholars attend Rosetta Code School to learn the coding software and attend the Rosetta conference. Unlike the REU program, scholars learn what they can expect if they

This one-year program provides well-rounded training for scholars. By preparing them for advanced academic training, the program lays the groundwork for a successful academic future.

The program offers other services including preparation for the GRE, MCAT, or other graduate entrance exams, and assistance in preparing graduate school applications. Rosetta Commons is software for macroThere are also workshops to improve their molecular structure prediction and design. scientific writing skills, learn about science It can be used for vaccines and antivirals, protein and enzyme design, nanomaterials, ethics, and networking opportunities with PhDs, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty. and deep learning.

education 25

Erin Gallagher

Rami Chakroun

Student Distribution 7% 13%


Undergraduates Masters


MD-PhD PhD Candidates


Postdoctoral Fellows



Summer Interns


Adrian Johnston

Natalie Livingston

Watch our research spotlight videos at inbt.jhu.edu to learn more about our student scholars.

26 outreach

Translation of Nano & Bio Research: Highlights of the 13th Annual Nano-Bio Symposium INBT’s efforts to strategically expand the in-

stitute’s translation initiatives were the focus of the 2019 Nano-Bio Symposium, “Translation of Nano & Bio Research”, held in early May.

More than 75 participants presented posters, and more than 200 people attended the event. Agilent Technologies, Gallagher, GE, Metropolitan Acoustics, Millipore Sigma, Nikon Instruments, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Tom and Lois Fekete were among those sponsoring the event and poster awards.

The topics discussed at this year’s symposium—the institute’s 13th—included how to successfully transfer academic research to the marketplace, how the collaboration of indus“When it was founded 13 years ago, the INBT try and academia accelerate new technology, was structured to span not just university diand how to start a company. visions, but also to completely obliterate disThe event featured seven guest speakers and ciplinary silos. And since its founding, the panelists, including keynote speaker Dar- INBT has continued to push the university to lene Solomon (Agilent Technologies); Philip break new ground, and has proved, over and G. Vanek (GE Healthcare); Michael Tsapat- over again, the value of collaboration,” said Ed sis (Johns Hopkins University/INBT); Jordan Schlesinger, Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Green (Johns Hopkins University/INBT); Whiting School of Engineering.   Christy Wyskiel (Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures); Neil Cohen (Emerald Development Managers); and Sashank Reddy (Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures).

Best Poster Overall Tom and Lois Fekete Undergraduate Award

1st place Chrissy O’Keefe

Marion Pang

2nd place Emily Wisniewski

Nikon Instruments Sponsored Award Winners

3rd place Yuan Rui

1st place Jackson DeStefano 2nd place Josh DiGiacomo 3rd place Caleb Anderson

outreach 27

The 14th Annual Nano-Bio Symposium will be held on May 1st, 2020 on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.

28 outreach

Excellence in Summer Research Training With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), INBT offers two Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs, which provides undergraduate students from across the nation with research training, professional development training, and networking opportunities.

Rosetta Commons Since 2015, the Rosetta Commons REU program is a collaboration among several universities that use Rosetta Commons software for computational modeling and analyzing protein structures. Under the guidance of Jeff Gray, director of the Rosetta Commons program, students work on projects from vaccines to deep learning. The program begins with students meeting for one week of Rosetta Code School to learn the software. Then, they spend eight weeks at their host institution before concluding the summer in Washington state at the Rosetta Conference, or RosettaCON, which brings together summer interns from around the world.

Nanotechnology for Biology and Bioengineering

Marranne Conge (left) and Salma Ibrahim (right) presented their research at the CARES Symposium at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Now in its 11th year, the competitive Nanotechnology for Biology and Bioengineering REU program receives 600 to 800 applications each year. Students work with faculty and graduate students across 11 labs on projects ranging from developing cancer therapies and other diseases, using stem cells and regenerative engineering to heal the body, and developing diagnostic tools for early disease detection.

The program ends with students presenting their research at the CARES Symposium at Johns Hopkins University, which brings together summer interns from across the university and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. This year, the NSF featured former INBT REU student Quinton Smith as a REU success story. Quinton participated in the program in 2010 and 2011, before joining INBT for his PhD program. Smith is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Rosetta Commons Program 50

students hosted








underrepresented minorities

Puerto Rico 2% Distribution by interns’ home institutions

Nanotechnology Program

42% of REU students between 2015–2019 came from non-R1 universities


students hosted


underrepresented minorities







Puerto Rico 5% Distribution by interns’ home institutions

30 outreach

The INBT Supports Baltimore The Institute for NanoBioTechnology is proud to support the Baltimore community. INBT staff, students, and faculty participated in or contributed to the following Johns Hopkins University community engagement activities and events.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, employees participated in volunteer projects at nonprofit organizations in Baltimore.

Adopt-A-Student Uniform Drive Donations assist families in purchasing the required uniforms for students in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Adopt-a-Family and Adopt-a-Senior Program Gifts, clothing, and grocery gift cards were provided to families and senior citizens in need during the December holiday season.

The Hopkins Pantry To assist Hopkins students, staff, and faculty dealing with food insecurities, food and personal products were collected and donated to the Hopkins Pantry.

Vernon Rice Memorial Turkey Program A turkey and vegetable basket from a local farm are provided to families in need for the Thanksgiving and December holidays.

JHU United Way Campaign Johns Hopkins joins with the United Way of Central Maryland to contribute to causes either through direct donations or by participating in fundraising events.

Institute for NanoBioTechnology Suite 100, Croft Hall 3400 North Charles Street Baltimore, md 21218

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