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Vol. LXVI, No. 18
August 29, 2014
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NIBIB Welcomes Next Generation of Bioengineering, Bioimaging Researchers

On the front page...

Dr. Adam Cohen
Dr. Adam Cohen
Better, faster, cheaper technologies to improve health was the theme echoed throughout the second annual NIBIB Nagy Symposium, which recognized eight outstanding first-time NIBIB independent investigators who received the Edward C. Nagy New Investigator Award.

The award is named after the late founding executive director of the Academy of Radiology Research. The innovative research presented reflected Nagy’s tireless advocacy and vision for the creation of NIBIB, an institute to foster the development of state-of-the-art medical technologies that would support biomedical research across NIH.

Continued...

The investigators described a range of cutting-edge technologies that included fluorescent imaging to guide nerve-sparing surgical procedures, optical imaging of neurological networks to develop treatments for neurodegenerative disorders and 3D printing of artificial organs for cheaper, faster and more accurate drug toxicity screening.

NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew and Dr. Christine A. Kelley, director of NIBIB’s Division of Discovery Science and Technology, presented the Nagy investigators with their awards at the recent symposium in Lister Hill Auditorium. All supported by NIBIB, they include Shaochen Chen, University of California, San Diego; Adam Cohen, Harvard University; Omid Farokhzad, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Jan Grimm, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Peter Kochunov, University of Maryland; Paul LaBarre, PATH, Seattle; Quyen Nguyen, University of California, San Diego; and Thomas Royston, University of Illinois at Chicago.

A number of presentations described novel yet diverse technologies to directly address clinical needs with the potential to significantly improve clinical care and outcomes.

One awardee is working on a method for complete removal of a tumor without damaging surrounding tissues—a formidable challenge for cancer surgeons.

Seated are Nagy awardees (from l) Shaochen Chen, Peter Kuchunov, Quyen Nguyen and Jan Grimm. Standing are Nagy awardees (from l) Omid Farokhzad, Paul LaBarre and Adam Cohen; NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew; Nagy awardee Thomas Royston; NIBIB division director Dr. Christine Kelley; and NIBIB program director Steven Krosnick.
Seated are Nagy awardees (from l) Shaochen Chen, Peter Kuchunov, Quyen Nguyen and Jan Grimm. Standing are Nagy awardees (from l) Omid Farokhzad, Paul LaBarre and Adam Cohen; NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew; Nagy awardee Thomas Royston; NIBIB division director Dr. Christine Kelley; and NIBIB program director Steven Krosnick.

Nguyen described her work using fluorescently labeled probes for imaging nerves during surgery. In particular, nerves and their branches that course through or near the parotid and prostate glands can be particularly difficult for surgeons to separate from tumors in these glands. Labeling these nerves with fluorescent probes will allow surgeons to perform intricate dissections and more adroitly separate tumor from critical nerve connections. The technology may also be applicable to guiding the repair of peripheral nerves damaged by trauma. For this work, Nguyen received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama in 2013.

Dr. Bruce Tromberg of the University of California, Irvine, gave a keynote address at the Nagy symposium on Engineering Medical Optics from Benchtop to Bedside.

Dr. Bruce Tromberg of the University of California, Irvine, gave a keynote address at the Nagy symposium on Engineering Medical Optics from Benchtop to Bedside.

Photos: Ernie Branson

Learning to listen to and understand chest sounds is extremely challenging for clinicians early in training; appreciation of subtle sounds can be subjective. As part of the Audible Human Project, Royston is developing better methods to characterize, record and stimulate the type of lung sounds clinicians hear through a stethoscope. He is attempting to improve the stethoscope from a qualitative, skill-dependent tool to a quantitative, automated device that could be used as part of mHealth and home monitoring, as well as by health professionals.

Adapting modern technologies for use in low-resource settings is important to NIBIB. LaBarre, a bioengineer at the international non-profit Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, is leading a project to develop a DNA amplification point-of-care device that does not require electricity or a battery pack. His group has developed an inexpensive device for use in low-resource settings to detect HIV in the early stages of infection so treatment and preventive measures can begin immediately. A prototype is currently being tested in India, Kenya and Zambia. An offshoot of this molecular diagnostics technology is a rapid low-cost method to detect Salmonella enterica in agricultural settings.

Several of the Nagy awardees featured sophisticated technological developments designed to allow the study of complex biological systems with the potential for eventual application to difficult biomedical challenges and major health problems.

Cohen, a theoretical physicist, exemplifies the cross-disciplinary nature of NIBIB research needed to solve complex problems. He described his work that uses fluorescent proteins found in nature to study neuronal signaling. Known as the optopatch, the technology changes electrical impulses into light, allowing the visualization of complete neural networks in real time. He is using the system to study what goes wrong to cause neural diseases with the goal of testing potential treatments to correct the defect. He described recent work studying neural cells of patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in which motor neurons progressively degenerate. In early experimental results, the laboratory has identified compounds that inhibit the degeneration of the ALS neurons in cell culture, which could ultimately lead to treatments for ALS.

Nagy awardee Farokhzad speaks at NIH.

Nagy awardee Farokhzad speaks at NIH.

NIBIB’s support of young investigators willing to test the limits of technological innovation was evident in the work of Chen, who described his methods for 3D printing of functional tissues. His laboratory has developed printing systems capable of building novel, biological scaffolds with the desired chemical, biological and mechanical properties to successfully mimic tissues of interest. The fabricated tissues are printed with a combination of man-made materials such as polymers and biologics including cells and chemicals, resulting in functional tissues. Such artificial organs are being used for a number of applications including screening drugs for toxicity and encapsulation of cardiomyocytes in a vascularized artificial environment to analyze vascular function.

A common characteristic of Nagy awardees was their enthusiasm and drive to push the envelope of technological innovation in order to more precisely detect, characterize or treat disease at lower cost or burden to patients and the health care delivery system. Richard Conroy, director of NIBIB’s Division of Applied Science and Technology and co-organizer of the meeting, said, “It was truly inspiring to host these Nagy investigators who are incredibly passionate about their technologies and improving health care in the U.S. and across the globe. These first-time R01 awardees will no doubt soon become the scientific leaders of tomorrow.”


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