2021 Nano-Bio Report

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Contents research

4 Faculty News 6 Certifying Sustainable Practices 7 Venom Makes a Beeline Through Blood Brain Barrier 8 Changes in Cell Locomotion and Distribution with Age 9

Bringing New Focus on Aging Research


ssDNA Nanotubes Target Glioblastoma


Portable Device Rapidly Diagnoses STIs


INBT Numbers

translation 13 Translation Achievements 14 Partnering with bluebird bio for Better Gene Therapy Tools 15 Startup Founders from Hopkins Aim to Stop Metastasis 16 Q&A with Sashank Reddy, JHTV Senior Medical Director

Editor Gina Wadas Graphic Designer Maureen Punte Contributing Writers Jacob DeNobel, Lisa Ercolano, Sharon Gerecht, Danny Jacobs, Gina Wadas, and Amy Weldon Front and Back Cover Designer Doug Behr Art and Photograph Contributors Adobe Stock, Habben Desta, Bruce Enzmann, Will Kirk, Efie Kokkoli, Jude Phillip, Gina Wadas, Allen Wang, and Anson Zhou Send comments and feedback to Johns Hopkins University Institute for NanoBioTechnology Suite 103, Shaffer Hall 3400 North Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21218 inbt@jhu.edu


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education 18

Team Innerva Gets Competitive

19 Virtual Opportunities Created for Co-Op Students 20

NSF Graduate Research Fellow Recipients


Allen Wang Awarded Johnson Medal


Student Distribution

ssDNA Nanotubes Target Glioblastoma

outreach 23 Outreach Efforts 24 Engineering in Aging Research: Highlights of the 14th Nano-Bio Symposium 26 Community Support Beyond the Office and Workbench 27 Farewell to Parting Director, Sharon Gerecht

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Directors’ Letter As the world and the INBT community entered 2021, and the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone continued to adapt to the ever-changing environment as the virus spread and mutated. We understand that people are exhausted and fatigued from balancing professional and personal priorities while trying to stay safe and healthy. Above all, we prioritize our community’s health and safety as we work during these challenging times. Despite the challenges, the INBT has many success stories and new developments we are excited to share in the 2021 Nano-Bio Report.

Sharon Gerecht Director

The INBT embarked on a new aging research initiative. Our faculty have been conducting aging research for some time, but with global data indicating that people are living longer, the INBT wants to bring this research to the forefront. We started by focusing our annual symposium on engineers’ role in aging research and creating an aging research group led by INBT researchers Denis Wirtz, Jude Phillip, and Jeremy Walston. After 14 years at Hopkins, Sharon accepted a new position with Hai-Quan Mao Duke University in January 2022. She has been a dedicated INBT Associate Director colleague and leader since arriving in 2007 and has raised INBT’s visibility at Hopkins and nationally. Sharon also strengthened INBT’s research, translation, and education initiatives and worked tirelessly to secure resources and opportunities for faculty, staff, and students. We are saddened at her departure, but excited as she embarks on this new chapter of her career. With Sharon’s departure, Hai-Quan assumed the role as director with Sashank Reddy, plastic and reconstructive surgeon and faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and senior medical director at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, joining our leadership as associate director. This is the INBT’s first director partnership with an engineer and clinician scientist at the helm.The new team will continue our tradition of excellence in research, education, and translation, and develop a new vision to take the INBT into the future. We already knew our INBT community is resilient, but we are impressed, and thankful, at everyone’s continued dedication to our initiatives. And with a shared vision for how the INBT can continue its tremendous success in fundamental research while also maximizing its impact on society, Hai-Quan and Sashank will augment and expand the institute’s scientific focus areas, enhance collaborations across the university, and provide members with resources for effective translation.



Faculty News New faculty

Sangmoo Jeong’s research focuses on developing sensitive technologies to further understand how dysfunctions in metabolism leads to disease manifestation and progression. He is an INBT core faculty member and assistant professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department. Jeremy Walston’s research is determining the biological characteristics that promote resilSangmoo Jeong iency and healthy aging, and translating that knowledge into diagnostic, preventive, and treatment strategies that promote healthy living. Walston is an INBT associate faculty member and the Raymond and Anna Lublin Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. Jeffrey Bulte specializes in molecular and cellular imaging and has pioneered methods to label cells magnetically, making them visible by magnetic resonance imaging. Bulte is an INBT affiliate faculty member and professor of radiology and radiological sciences. Appointments

Tza-Huei (Jeff) Wang, INBT core faculty member and professor of mechanical engineering, was appointed the Louis M. Sardella Professor. The endowed professorship was established this year through the Louis (Lou) M. Sardella estate. A Baltimore native, Lou graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics in 1969. Andrew Ewald was appointed director of the Department of Cell Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Ewald is an INBT associate faculty member and co-director of the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Research Program in the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, and the Johns Hopkins-Allegheny Health Network Cancer Research Fund. Jamie Spangler was appointed the William R. Brody Faculty Scholar. Established in 2008 by Robert Seder, university trustee, and Deborah L. Harmon in honor of former JHU President William R. Brody, the award supports promising young faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Spangler is an INBT affiliate faculty member and assistant professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department.

Andrew Ewald




Rebecca Schulman is a grant recipient of a $1.5M award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The award will help Schulman understand the properties of nucleic acid-based condensates, how to control them, and future applications. Schulman is an INBT associate faculty member and an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Laura Wood is one of three faculty to receive the President’s Frontier Finalist Award. The award includes $80,000 toward her research to collaborate with engineers to create analyses of human pancreatic tissue using a novel 3-D multiomics approach. Wood is an INBT associate faculty member and associate professor of pathology.

Rebecca Schulman

Deok-Ho Kim received the 2021 Mid-Career Investigator Award from the International Society of Biofabrication. The award recognizes one, mid-career investigator that has made significant contributions to the biofabrication field. In recognition of his efforts, Kim received a plaque, honorarium, and spoke at the Biofabrication 2021 Awards Ceremony. Kim is an INBT associate member and associate professor of biomedical engineering. Stavroula Sofou is the recipient of a grant from W.W. Smith Charitable Trust. The $125,000 award is helping Sofou develop a new approach to fighting metastatic cancer resistant to other therapies. Sofou is an INBT associate faculty member and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Denis Wirtz and Laura Wood received an award from the National Cancer Institute to Stavroula Sofou create a center that will develop new 3D imaging tools to visualize breast and pancreatic tumors at high spatial resolution. The team aims to recognize key cell types that contribute to the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor site to distant sites.Wirtz is an INBT core faculty member and vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins. Jordan Green has been elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, a distinction that honors academic inventors who have created or facilitated outstanding inventions that have had an impact on society. His inventions include the creation of tiny, biodegradable particles that teach the human immune system to recognize cancer cells, improvements to the time-delayed release of drugs and other therapeutic agents, and particles optimized for delivering genetic instructions to cells. Green is an INBT associate faculty member and professor of biomedical engineering.



Certifying Sustainable Practices by Jacob DeNobel When graduate research assistant Ryan Weeks brought the My Green Lab sustainability certification program to the lab of Johns Hopkins Professor Marc Ostermeier, he was shocked by how much energy was saved with minor adjustments to lab procedures. Per the program’s recommendations, the lab turned off and unplugged equipment at night, ordered from local suppliers, and fixed leaks in their vaults. Raising the specimen freezer’s temperatures by just 10 degrees, to the still-safe –70 degrees Celsius, led to a 30% energy reduction. Now Weeks, along with teaching lab coordinator Christine Duke and energy engineer Bena Zeng, want to bring the environmental certification process to the whole university. Recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the American Energy Society, and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories, the My Green Lab certification program has become the global benchmark for measuring the environmental impact of laboratory practices, Weeks said. According to Duke, the idea to apply for My Green Lab certification developed as INBT renewed their Green Office Certification. She wondered if there was a similar program that analyzed individual labs. Zeng, who works in the Johns Hopkins Office of Sustainability, brought the My Green Lab program to Duke’s attention. In the end, Weeks signed on with the Ostermeier lab, while Duke spearheaded the program in the lab of the institute’s director, Sharon Gerecht. With the success of the Ostermeier and Gerecht labs’ certifications, Duke, Weeks, and Zeng launched a pilot program to help other Hopkins’ labs through the certification process. Weeks hopes that the first cohort will show labs and the Hopkins administration that certification is not only good for the environment but a financially responsible decision. “If we save energy across all the labs, that’s going to translate into money savings,”Weeks said.“That translates into labs having more money to do the research that they need to do. This is sustainable not only from an environmental perspective but also from a self-sustaining perspective.”



Venom Makes a Beeline Through Blood Brain Barrier by Gina Wadas The blood brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective gatekeeper. Composed of interlocking endothelial cells that form tight junctions, the BBB shields vulnerable brains cells from toxins in the bloodstream. However, this also means that the BBB blocks many compounds from entering the brain, making drug delivery via the bloodstream challenging. To address this, Johns Hopkins researchers tested melittin, the main protein in honeybee venom, to unlock these tight junctions and enable delivery of drugs into the brain. “Our early results indicate that melittin can disrupt the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reversibly opening cell junctions. This provides a novel approach for delivering drugs into the brain, particularly large therapeutics like antibodies and nanoparticles,” said Peter Searson, INBT co-founder and core member and Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor of Engineering.

tight junctions. They then applied their findings in a mouse model using real-time magnetic resonance imaging to show reversible and safe opening of the BBB. Melittin is a widely studied membrane active peptide (MAP) that interacts with cell membranes. Researchers are interested in melittin and other MAPs from animal venom because of their potential therapeutic applications. Interestingly, given their short amino acid chemical composition, MAPs provide engineers with room to modify and optimize their design for specific applications. “Melittin has been studied for many decades. Researchers have long believed that melittin can be useful for drug delivery, and the current work vindicates this belief,” said Hristova.

To explore melittin’s use, three research groups joined forces— Searson, Kalina Hristova, INBT core member, and materials science and engineering professor, and Piotr Walczak at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The team first tested melittin in a tissue-engineered BBB model.They identified the effects and mechanisms of junction disruptions across different melittin doses. Critical to the study was identifying doses that were not toxic to neurons and allowed reversible disruption of

The researchers are now looking ahead towards developing this technology. They hope to test optimal doses in larger models and apply this approach in a diseased model to demonstrate therapeutic benefit.



Changes in Cell Locomotion and Distribution with Age by Amy Weldon Most people are familiar with the aging process in how it effects our outward appearance; graying hair, crow’s feet and wrinkles, limited mobility, and more. In a study by Jude Phillip, INBT’s core faculty member and assistant professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department, is taking a closer look at how age can impact the behavior of cells, specifically, the way in which they move around the body. In previous research by Phillip, his team found that aging information is encoded within the biophysical properties of cells, or how the cells look, move, and forces they generate. By looking at this information, researchers can determine a person’s age based on properties of individual cells. Once cellular age is determined, it can be linked to characteristics and defects related to the overall aging process and age-associated diseases. By identifying characteristics and defects in aging cells, researchers hope to make predicting the manifestation of age-related disease more effective. In the study, Phillip and his team examined what about a cell’s locomotion capabilities may change with age. With fibroblast samples taken from healthy individuals ages 2-92, they found that in the same way we may need the assistance of a walker or a loved ones’ arm to steady ourselves in our older years, individual cells move less and at slower speeds than younger cells. While on average, the researchers found decreased movement in older cells, it

was not universal. By studying individual cell trajectories, Phillip’s team hypothesized that the decreased motility of aging cells is related to how cells that move less are distributed among cells that are more active. “We found eight motility patterns and four activity patterns that describe all the cells, across all ages,” said Phillip. “We wanted to know how the representation of cells as a function of age and age groups were using those clusters.” The analysis revealed that there was, indeed, a redistribution among the different activity patterns or motility states. Samples from young donors (2 – 20 years old) were described more frequently as fast moving with steady directionality, while samples from older donors (>65 years old) were described as slow moving and frequently changing direction. Interestingly, cells from donors between the ages of 35 and 65 did not seem to show a bias towards either end of the speed and directionality spectrums, which indicates there is a mixture of heterogeneity among them. Looking closer at the older cells’ deviations from younger cells’ healthy trends could yield new insight on the aging process. “By studying the heterogeneity of cells, we hope to improve upon what we know about aging trends and with this new insight, potentially develop better biomarkers of aging,” said Phillip.



Bringing New Focus on Aging Research Worldwide people are living longer than before. The population of people aged 60 and older is growing exponentially according to data from the US Census Bureau, United Nations, and more. Growth in this demographic brings new challenges to meet the group’s unique needs. Traditional aging research has been conducted in silos and the INBT aims to remove those silos by creating collaborative teams that bring engineers, physical scientists, biological scientists, and medical experts together. Leading these efforts are INBT faculty members Jude Phillip assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Denis Wirtz, Vice Provost for Research and Theophilus Halley Smooth Professor, and Jeremy Walston, Raymond and Anna Lublin Professor of Geriatric Medicine & Gerontology.

School of Engineering, and chart a vision for the field with their perspectives of what aging research is, the trajectory it is going, and the advantages of the physical sciences and engineering approach. The INBT faculty have conducted aging research for some time, but to prepare for the future environment, the institute wants to bring aging research to the forefront.

This past year our symposium featured guest speakers and panelists that focused on aging and how bioengineers can shape the future of aging research. Not long after the event, an aging working group was started with researchers from John Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, the Whiting School of Engineering, and the INBT. The group identified four key areas to grow their research: biomarkers of aging, regenerative engineering and aging, aging and cancer, and age-related neuroengineering. Within each area, their goals are to bring in funding for research, create working programs between Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Whiting

Researchers are interested in the role senescent cells, the large cells seen centered, play in agerelated diseases. These non-dividing cells accumulate with age and can adversely influence the function of healthy cells.



ssDNA Nanotubes Target Glioblastoma by Gina Wadas Glioblastoma is considered the most aggressive brain cancer. Even with treatment, patient survival rates are low, with most living an average of 15 to 18 months after diagnosis. Glioblastoma tumor’s highly diverse characteristics and location in the body make treating this disease challenging. “One hurdle to delivering treatments via the bloodstream is crossing the blood brain barrier (BBB), which protects the brain from toxins in the bloodstream, but can also block out large molecules like therapeutics. My team is using DNA nanotechnology to create a single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) nanotube that Glioblastoma tumor cells (green) in mice internalized can cross the BBB, targeting brain tumors,” ssDNA nanotubes (red) after local injection. said Efie Kokkoli, chemical and biomolecudrug. Again, using mouse models, they injectlar engineering professor and INBT core reed glioblastoma cells on one side of the brain searcher. to simulate remaining residual tumor cells folKokkoli and a team of colleagues used mouse lowing tumor resection. Each mouse received models to test the ssDNA nanotubes’ accu- a different treatment. Some received empty racy in targeting glioblastoma. They inject- nanotubes, while others received doxorubicin ed nanotubes into both sides of mice’s brain freely in the brain or via DNA nanotubes. hemispheres: one side was healthy and one had Mice that received doxorubicin via the nanoglioblastoma tumors. The researchers observed tubes showed an increase in survival. More that the tumors held onto the nanotubes, but importantly, the mice that received free doxothey were absent from the brain’s healthy side, rubicin showed toxicity signs in their liver and providing evidence that there is little chance spleen. In contrast, there were no significant that the therapeutics would harm healthy cells. findings in spleen and liver tissues of mice The team also injected nanotubes into a vein treated with empty nanotubes and those that on the mice’s tails and noticed the same results, delivered doxorubicin. indicating the nanotubes successfully traveled through the rodents’ body and crossed the BBB. “ssDNA nanotubes are a promising tool to target glioblastoma tumors and deliver theraThe team also evaluated the nanotubes as a depeutics to brain tumors,” Kokkoli said. livery vehicle for doxorubicin, a chemotherapy



Portable Device Rapidly Diagnoses STIs by Lisa Ercolano More than 87 million people around the world are infected with gonorrhea, a potentially devastating sexually transmitted disease with increasing resistance to antibiotics. Experts say that quickly identifying and treating those infected is the only way to prevent spiraling numbers of cases and the further rise of antibiotic-resistant strains. Called PROMPT (portable, rapid, on-cartridge, magnetofluidic purification and testing platform), the Wang team’s device runs on a five-volt battery and includes thermoplastic cartridges that cost about $2. A team lead by Jeff Wang has created an inexpensive portable device and cellphone app to diagnose gonorrhea in less than 15 minutes and determine if a particular strain will respond to frontline antibiotics. The invention improves on traditional testing in hospital laboratories and clinics, which typically takes up to a week to deliver results— time during which patients can unknowingly spread their infections. “Our portable, inexpensive testing platform has the potential to change the game,” said Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering and INBT core researcher. “It ensures that patients are diagnosed on the spot, and treatment can begin immediately. This will be especially valuable in low-resource settings, where wellequipped laboratories are not always available.”

During testing from sexual health clinics in Baltimore and Kampala, Uganda, PROMPT correctly detected the most common strain of gonorrhea about 97% of the time. It was 100% accurate in determining whether the tested strain of gonorrhea would respond to ciprofloxacin, a medication that targets infections that are resistant to other antibiotics. “Our test maintains the same sensitivity and specificity currently used in hospital and clinic labs but reduces the cost and time involved,” said team member Alex Trick, a biomedical engineering graduate student. Wang and his team are forming a related company to work through regulatory approval, manufacturing, and distribution. “We expect to be able to deliver these products to those who can really benefit from them in two to three years,” he said.



INBT Numbers Business 15


Years of Research


51% Growth in sponsored awards received since 2017 109% Growth in sponsored expenditures since 2017

Faculty 36%




faculty distribution

6% 8%

INBT faculty represent

Associate Affiliate 18%

Assistant Research Scientists Research Support

21 Departments across 5 Hopkins Schools



Translation Achievements 2017–2021 169




Inventor Disclosures

New Companies Formed

Patents Granted

Patents Licensed

Sung Hoon Kang received a grant through the Bisciotti Foundation Translational Fund to work on his 3D printed prototype device called Vaso-Lock. The device helps surgeons by holding together free vascular ends instead of requiring stitches to make microvascular and vascular anastomosis faster, easier, and safer. Kang is an INBT associate faculty member and assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Honggang Cui has received a $1.8 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Design Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program to develop new technologies to improve the industrial protein purification process. Cui and his team seek to improve this process by using self-assembling peptides to create a molecule that better captures more of the proteins of interest. Cue is an INBT core faculty member and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Konstantinos Konstantopoulos received an award from the Maryland Innovation Initiative to develop a pathway to commercialize a technology that can help identify the likelihood a patient’s cancer will metastasize based on their cells’ behavior rather than genetics. Konstantopoulos is an INBT core faculty member and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Circulomics, a spinoff company from research in Tza-Huei (Jeff) Wang lab’s by his former PhD student Kelvin Liu, was acquired by Pacific Biosciences. Founded in 2009, Circulomics began with startup money from Johns Hopkins FastForward. The company makes technology that reads long-sequence DNA and is applicable to biomedical, plant, animal, and microbial research. Wang is an INBT core faculty member and professor of mechanical engineering.

Interested in the INBT’s translational activities? Find licensing and partnership opportunities, start-up companies, research, and more on our website.



Partnering with bluebird bio for Better Gene Therapy Tools by Gina Wadas Viruses are experts at infiltrating the body, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus (and resulting COVID-19 pandemic) have demonstrated. Their efficiency at targeting specific cells makes them useful drug delivery vehicles, known as viral vectors. Viral vectors are modified viruses that transport therapeutic “packages” to diseased cells. These packages contain instructions with modified or designed DNA or RNA to correct or supplement a faulty or missing gene. Though viral vector-based gene therapies are among the most advanced treatments for congenital and acquired diseases, producing them is complex and costly.

To address this challenge, Hai-Quan Mao, INBT associate director and materials science and engineering professor, and his team, collaborated with Nolan Sutherland, senior scientist at bluebird bio, a biotechnology company that develops gene therapies. Sutherland wanted Mao’s help to streamline the transfection process in lentiviral vector production. Lenti-

viral vectors (LVV) are made from a family of viruses that infect people by reverse transcription of their RNA into DNA in their host cells’ genome. During transfection, a key step in viral vector production, a polymer solution is combined with a DNA plasmid mixture to form transfection particles. The procedure is cumbersome and involves complicated solution blending and strict timed dosing. Mao’s team developed a more effective and shelf-stable formulation of DNA particles in a ready-to-dose form. They also discovered that size-controlled sub-micron particles are most effective in transfecting cells and producing viral vectors. Their findings were validated at bluebird bio using the company’s bioreactor, and they compared the new method with the industry standard. The results showed improved vector production yield, shelf stability, handling stability, and quality control of the transfection process. “This new technology will greatly improve the production quality, consistency, and yield of our therapeutic LVVs,” Sutherland said. The team is scaling up production with goals to transfer the technology to the marketplace. Contributors include Jordan Green, INBT associate researcher and biomedical engineering professor, and Sashank Reddy, INBT affiliate researcher and assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery.



Startup Founders from Hopkins Aim to Stop Metastasis by Danny Jacobs AbMeta Therapeutics’ founders Denis Wirtz, INBT core researcher and vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins, Jamie Spangler, and Elizabeth Jaffee are combining years of pioneering research to target cancer metastasis, which is responsible for 90% of all cancer-related deaths. “Patients with cancer don’t die from the primary tumors,” said Jaffee, deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. “They die from metastasis.” Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures introduced Wirtz, Spangler, and Jaffee to Joseph Carroll, director of life sciences for the IP Group, a hard science investment firm that discovers and builds early-stage companies. Carroll was intrigued by the researchers’ innovations, as well as by having a clinician (Jaffee), bioengineer (Spangler), and biologist (Wirtz) as founders—three roles necessary in building a biotech company. Carroll created a plan and a funding model to build a startup around the trio. “This opportunity just presented itself in such an exciting way that we couldn’t pass it up,” said Spangler, INBT affiliate researcher and biomedical engineering assistant profes-

sor. “It’s all about impact. How can I have the most impact in the shortest amount of time given the resources and training? I really see that as being at that interface between academic science and translational medicine.” The Bisciotti Foundation Translational Fund awarded a grant for Spangler and Wirtz’s research through JHTV in 2020 and, combined with IP Group investment, the startup has secured nearly $2 million in funding. The company initially plans to target pancreatic and triple-negative breast cancer, two aggressive forms of the disease, and aims to test its therapy in patients in the next five years. “Denis Wirtz is a provost at Hopkins, Liz Jaffee is a cancer center director, and Jamie Spangler is a superstar new faculty member,” said Carroll. “That’s an interesting triad that coalesced around a groundbreaking science, and we wanted to support this group and get their tech to market.”



Q&A with Sashank Reddy, JHTV Senior Medical Director

In addition to being a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Sashank Reddy, MD, PhD, is a scientist and biomedical entrepreneur. Early in his career he worked on new company creation at Third Rock Ventures with some of the firm’s founders. More recently he co-founded the Baltimore-based companies LifeSprout, Inc. and Spacetime Therapeutics. These experiences have helped Reddy in his role as senior medical director at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV), a hub that facilitates the translation and commercialization of Hopkins discoveries. We asked Reddy, also an INBT associate researcher, about his views on life science technologies at Hopkins and the INBT.

down the value chain. Ultimately, we aim to unlock that value through new company creation, corporate partnerships, or other means. I also work with Hopkins and JHTV leadership on effective technology translation strategies. We develop programmatic resources and find ways to reduce the technology development friction for my faculty colleagues, including those at the INBT. Q: What are your views on the translation potential at Hopkins and the INBT? A: The opportunities are enormous. Hopkins has some of the world’s best basic scientists and medical institutions, with new discoveries happening frequently. Visionary investments by university leaders and developments in the biotechnology industry, generally, have facilitated turning those discoveries into new inventions.

Q: What is your role at JHTV? A: I have two main roles. First, I am privileged to work on translational plans for some of the most high-value biomedical discoveries across Hopkins. With my JHTV colleagues, I identify ways to push these early discoveries further

For INBT the opportunities are vast. My colleagues at the medical school where I am based, broadly think in terms of disease etiology. We regularly discover molecules that contribute to disease development but sometimes struggle to translate those biological insights into actionable therapeutics and diagnostics. These challenges are where engineers excel. For example, an engineer could create a novel protein therapeutic to intervene in pathogenesis, or as we saw during the COVID pan-


demic, develop nanoparticles to deliver novel vaccines. In this way, by bridging discovery and action, I see INBT engineers and clinician scientists as natural partners. Q: Are there certain translation areas you see growing? A: Gene delivery and genome engineering is one important area. Cellular engineering is another and we have several INBT faculty who work on both. Yet another is biological and molecular sensing and engineers like Jeff Wang really add depth to that area. Increasingly, there is synergy in these approaches as we see call and response circuits being programmed into cells to arrest disease or enhance function. Q: What challenges do academic institutions face with trying to bring research discoveries to the marketplace? A: One is the siloing of knowledge and investigators within schools and across campuses. Often, useful inventions come at the intersection of different fields, so facilitating meaningful communication across disciplines is vital. The other is a lack of translational know-how. Faculty are trained to drill deep into particular areas of scientific and clinical expertise, but we are generally ill informed about aspects of technology translation – prototyping, preclinical testing, manufacturing – unless we spent time in the commercial realm. Engineers are generally better at this but matching their expertise with the highest value problems remains a challenge. Q: How can JHTV and INBT address those challenges? A: The INBT can help break those silos. We can better showcase the discovery and design research of our faculty across the university and highlight successful collaborations. This


can lead to a virtuous cycle where basic discovery-oriented scientists can identify partners, and the powerful platforms developed by our engineers can be applied to the most salient problems. JHTV helps across multiple stages. Early on they administer translational funding for needs like early prototyping and de-risking experiments. Several INBT faculty have received this funding. They also administer educational programs like i-Corps and faculty bootcamps that address the know-how problem. Later in the process, JHTV offers space and mentorship for start-up incubation and/or introduction to corporate partners. Working together we can break down those silos and improve bidirectional learning to better communicate the goods, the tools, and the faculty we have, and focus all of them on the most impactful problems. Q: Do you have other thoughts on translation initiatives? A: We are living in an extraordinary time for biomedical innovation. No one who has lived through these last two years could dispute that. Consider COVID vaccines for example. In one year, the biomedical community discovered, developed, tested, and broadly deployed efficacious vaccines against a wholly unknown pathogen. And this was done using novel modalities – lipid nanoparticles and mRNA. No one imagined that could be done so quickly. Biomedical discoveries are becoming more numerous and occurring at a faster pace. As mentioned previously, clinical scientists and engineers are natural partners. And their partnerships are a catalyst for turning scientific discoveries into meaningful action that can benefit society.



Team Innerva Gets Competitive

by Amy Weldon In May, three INBT and materials science and engineering undergraduate students were awarded the “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Michael Lan, Anson Zhou, and Bruce Enzmann, who make up team Innerva, received $10,000 for their device, which helps patients suffering from peripheral nerve damage.The cone-shaped device helps direct nerve regrowth and prevent neuromas, which cause severe pain. Then in September, undergraduate materials science and engineering student Juan Diego Carrizo joined team Innerva and they became finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition. According to the Innerva team, 20 million people in the U.S. are living with peripheral nerve injuries, the most severe of which are caused by amputations. During the recovery process after an amputation, the severed nerve cells often grow back in a disorganized way, forming cell clusters that generate non-cancerous, but very painful tumors known as neuromas. The discomfort these neuromas can cause is debilitating for the patient and seriously impede a patient’s recovery and overall wellbeing. This

results in the prescription of pain medications and sometimes follow-up surgeries and recovery time which can cost the patient tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses alone. Currently, there is no technology or treatment that can promote functional peripheral nerve regeneration and prevent painful neuromas formation. While targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) is a promising approach to amputation, in which surgeons stitch the severed nerve to smaller motor nerves, there is a considerable disparity in size between the two nerve types, and the remaining disorganized axons can continue to grow and form neuromas. The team’s solution is a cone-shaped, biodegradable device that bridges the gaps between nerves of different sizes and can be implanted within TMR. Team advisors include Hai-Quan Mao, INBT associate director, Sami Tuffaha, a faculty surgeon in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and Dr. Ahmet Hoke, professor of neurology and neuroscience and INBT affiliate researcher.



Virtual Opportunities Created for Co-Op Students For six years, the Institute for NanoBioTechnology has offered engineering master’s students hands-on, real-world work experience as an alternative to a thesis or research-based curriculum. In the Masters Cooperative Education Program, students spend six months working full time for an industry partner where they put engineering principles learned in the classroom to practice.While the students work, they earn credit toward their degree and receive a company salary.

Companies with Training Opportunities

Last year during the COVD-19 pandemic the INBT worked with industry partners to transition student projects to the socially distanced environment. Some projects started virtually then later transitioned to in-person while others remain completely virtual. These efforts helped the Co-Op program grow student participation in 2020 and 2021. The collaboration has strengthened the bond between the INBT and participating industry partners, and virtual learning has also generated new ideas for the program such as exploring partnerships with companies that are distantly located where traveling and relocating to a new area makes it difficult for students.

Ethicon Biosurgery (Johnson & Johnson)

The program is open to students in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Students work with a Hopkins faculty member and company supervisor to design and complete projects ranging from pharmaceuticals, biotech products, specialty materials and chemicals for products, systems engineering, and more.


AstraZeneca Baltimore Aircoil Company Becton Dickinson Bristol-Myers Squibb

FDA GEA GlaxoSmithKline Graham Packing Company Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory New York Stem Cell Foundation Paragon Bioservices

W.R. Grace

Go to inbt.jhu.edu/masters to see our full list of industry partners, video, and more about the program.



NSF Graduate Research Fellow Recipients

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows Program (GRFP) is one of the oldest graduate fellowships in the United States that supports STEM students. Recipients are selected for their outstanding work in science, technology, engineering, or math fields. The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support in the form of an annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees paid to the institution.They have opportunities for international research and professional development and have the freedom to conduct their own research. The 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellows with ties to the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology are Habben Desta and Siddharth Iyer.

Desta is a chemical and biomolecular engineering PhD student in the lab of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, INBT core faculty member. She received her bachelor of science degree in nanoscale engineering from SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Desta also participated in INBT’s NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in the summer of 2018 when she was an undergraduate student. Siddharth Iyer, now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, performed research in the lab of Hai-Quan Mao, INBT associate director and core faculty member. Iyer was awarded the fellowship for his proposal for a screening tool to study and manipulate brain aging in vivo using expansion sequencing and multiplexed Cre-dependent recombination.



Allen Wang Awarded Johnson Medal by Amy Weldon The INBT and Materials Science and Engineering Department alumni Allen Y. Wang (’07) was awarded the Johnson Medal for developing a fast-acting powder to stop disruptive bleeding during surgical procedures. The award recognizes research and development personnel for excellence in breakthrough, innovative work aimed to benefit patients and consumers. Wang is principal scientist in the Biosurgery R&D team at Ethicon Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, where he developed the Surgicel® Powder Absorbable Hemostat. The interdisciplinary team including scientists, engineers, designers, and clinicians, worked for nearly eight years to develop the life-saving product.

“I am honored to receive the Johnson Medal and I am very grateful to have had this opporHemostats, medical devices used to control tunity to work together, innovate, and bring bleeding, exist in many forms, such as fabric, this product to market to help patients,” said sponges, and liquids, but they are ineffective in Wang. uncontrolled bleeding situations. Wang’s goal While at Hopkins, Wang studied under many was to improve successful outcomes for surmaterials science and engineering professors, geons and patients faced with the phenomincluding INBT faculty Peter Searson, Kalina enon. The Surgicel® powder, composed of Hristova, and Hai-Quan Mao. Currently, he oxidized regenerated cellulose fiber, is made supervises an INBT graduate student through through a series of proprietary and innovative the Master’s Industry Co-Op Program, and manufacturing processes. The team also develone of his goals is to inspire early-career reoped a delivery device so surgeons have more searchers to be innovative and inspired by the control when applying the product. Surgicel® world around them. Powder is designed to target continuous broad oozing bleeding where the source can be difficult and time consuming to locate, which occurs in more than 50% of all surgeries and procedures.



Ece Özdemir

Ikbal Chohudry

Student Distribution 1%

13% PhD Candidates

7% 48%


Undergraduates Postdoctoral Fellows Masters




Summer Interns


Franklyn Hall

Habben Desta



Outreach Efforts Nanotechnology for Biology and Bioengineering Research Experience for Undergraduates Program Program age: 12 years   Average number of applicants (2017–2021): 745


students hosted


underrepresented minorities

54% women

Rosetta Commons Research Experience for Undergraduates Program Program age: 7 years   Average number of applicants (2017–2021): 244


students hosted


underrepresented minorities

63% women

14 Nano-Bio Symposiums 84 guest speakers hosted in the last 5 years

Go to our website to learn more about INBT’s outreach initiatives: inbt.jhu.edu



Engineering in Aging Research: Highlights of the 14th Nano-Bio Symposium Population projections from U.S. census data indicate that by 2050 the 65-year-old population will double and 20% of the population will be over 60 years-old.With a growing aging population comes concerns about socio-economic burdens, quality of life, age-associated disabilities, multi-morbidities, healthcare costs, and more. To provide a fresh perspective on aging and aging research, experts from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and the Nation-

Topics discussed included the biophysical changes to cells, tissues, and surrounding tissues as people age, the effects of aging on cancer, and a panel discussion on how bioengineers can work with clinicians, biologists, and industry to further advance aging research. New this year was hosting the annual event virtually on the Zoom platform given the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing regulations. Despite changes to the usual in-person format, the virtual platform made attending the event more accessible to

“ Engineering—and engineers—are vital to our ability to predict, identify, understand, and address the many biological processes and health risks associated with aging,” said T.E. Schlesinger. al Institute of Aging were invited to speak at the INBT’s 14th Nano-Bio Symposium on Engineering in Aging Research. “This year’s topic—the role of engineering in aging research—could not be more critical, more timely, and more exciting. Engineering—and engineers—are vital to our ability to predict, identify, understand, and address the many biological processes and health risks associated with aging,” said T.E. Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean at the Whiting School of Engineering.

people outside of Baltimore and Maryland. Attendees were located across the United States, such as California, Oklahoma, New York, and Puerto Rico, and around the globe, including Canada, India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. Through interdisciplinary collaborations, engineers, scientists, and physicians, can more fully inform future generations about prevention, treatment, and diagnostic strategies targeting the health and well-being of older adults.

The 15th Nano-Bio Symposium is June 10, 2022. More information can be found on our website.

Keynote Speakers

Luigi Ferrucci Scientific Director, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Health

Ashani Weeraratna Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cancer Biology Professor and E.V. McCollum Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Panel Speakers

Denis Wirtz

Mark Anderson

Sharon Gerecht

T.E. Schlesinger

Jeremy Walston

INBT Core Researcher, Johns Hopkins Vice Provost for Research, and Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department

Director, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and William Osler Professor of Medicine

INBT Director and Core Researcher and Edward J. Schaefer Professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department

Benjamin T. Rome Dean, Whiting School of Engineering

Raymond and Anna Lublin Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Faculty Spotlight Speakers

Jude Phillip

Peter Abadir

Luo Gu

Gabsang Lee

Jin Han

INBT Core Faculty Member and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Associate Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

INBT Associate Researcher and Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

Associate Professor of Neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Postdoctoral Fellow in the Biomedical Engineering Department



Community Support Beyond the Office and Workbench The INBT’s collaborative atmosphere extends beyond the workbench as many staff, students, and faculty participate in charitable events and activities to support people and communities in need. While the INBT has participated in many programs, our community has participated in the following Johns Hopkins community engagement programs consistently in the past several years. Vernon Rice Memorial Turkey Program Named for the late Hopkins employee that started the program, the program collects monetary donations to purchase a basket with a fresh turkey and vegetables from a local farm for families in need for the Thanksgiving and December holidays. Adopt-a-Family and Adopt-a-Senior Program Johns Hopkins partners with local nonprofit and service agencies to connect employees who wish to bring a little extra cheer to families and senior citizens in need during the December holiday season by providing gifts, clothing, and gift cards.

Adopt-a-Student Uniform and Supplies Drive Since 2011, the program has assisted students in elementary, middle, and high school at Baltimore City Public Schools purchase new school uniforms. In 2021, the program was expanded to purchase essential school supplies. To date, the INBT community has procured: § Turkey dinners for 61 families §  Gifts, clothing, and gift cards for 13 people, which includes senior citizens, adults, and children § Uniforms and school supplies for 8 students



Farewell to Parting Director, Sharon Gerecht Dear colleagues and friends, As most of you know I have accepted a faculty position at Duke University in North Carolina. I never thought I’d leave Hopkin but when the opportunity at Duke presented itself, it was one I could not let pass. The choice is bittersweet as I’ve accomplished much at this great institution and cultivated wonderful relationships. In 2007, I arrived at Hopkins after completing my postdoctoral fellowship at MIT and became a chemical and biomolecular engineering assistant professor with an eye to grow my expertise in tissue repair and regeneration using stem cells. Upon my arrival I was immediately recruited by Denis Wirtz to become a member of the INBT. The years passed and I went on to become full professor in 2016 and by 2017 I was the INBT’s new director. Academia has no shortage of duties and responsibilities, and I’ve had a full 15 years of them. But my most prized responsibility and accomplishment is training, and hopefully inspiring, future

STEM generations. I have had over 100 trainees, from high school students to postdoctoral fellows. My former trainees have completed many more professional achievements and I am glad to have played a part in helping them become the professionals they want to be. Integral to training the future STEM generations, and an important component to my career, is ensuring underrepresented minorities have representation in STEM fields. I’ve strived to create opportunities and participate in activities that recruits diverse student populations, and to create an inclusive environment for all. Diversifying our lab and community not only helps excel research, but I strongly believe it enriches our experiences and strengthens our ability to face adversities. As I packed my home, office, and laboratory I was reminded of the fond memories I have made at Hopkins. I thank everyone who has been a part of my journey and appreciate those who supported me. I hope I have done the same for you. I look forward to forging a new chapter and I take the friendships I have made at Hopkins and Baltimore with me.

Institute for NanoBioTechnology Suite 103, Shaffer Hall 3400 North Charles Street Baltimore, md 21218

1 2022

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