Indiana University has received a five year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop nanoscale devices to enhance human health, including fighting cancer. The University received this grant only a year after setting up the intelligent systems engineering program in the Indiana University School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.
The new grant will be used to develop the Engineered nanoBIO Hub at IU, one of three "nodes" in the Network for Computational Nanotechnology nanoHUB project of NSF. This project provides Researchers access to advanced tools for complicated research problems. The node at IU will aim at simulating the interactions between nanoscale devices – which function at a nanometer level or one-billionth of a meter – and biological cells and tissues.
The research grant is headed by Geoffrey C. Fox, Interim Associate Dean for Intelligent Systems Engineering at the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering and IU Distinguished Professor.
"We're living in a world where people are increasingly 'instrumented' with wearable devices and implanted devices within the body," Fox said. Some examples are ingestible pills that enable Doctors to remotely monitor vital signs of a patient; customized nanoscale medical devices that provide physicians the unprecedented ability to find and infiltrate cancer cells to destroy them – or even potentially "reprogram" the cells to behave like normal cells; and microscopically small machines to constantly monitor blood sugar in people with diabetes.
This award is a real vote of confidence in the school and an acknowledgement of the fact that our people are conducting extremely relevant, exciting work. To receive a grant of this magnitude only one year after officially launching an engineering department with programs in bioengineering and nanoengineering is a major achievement.
Geoffrey C. Fox, Interim Associate Dean, Intelligent Systems Engineering, The School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, Indiana University
The project’s ultimate goal is to support the advancement of medical devices that, "operate at the intersection of nanotechnology and biotechnology," he said.
These types of devices will require very complex software to design and run. It is also important that Scientists can simulate their function within a computer program before employing them in people to ensure the devices work properly and efficiently without making any harm.
This new grant backs efforts to develop and offer wider access to tools that simulate the physical design of the nanoparticle-based devices, simulate and improve their interaction with tissues in the body, and enhance their effectiveness. IU Scientists will also advance the platform through which Medical Researchers and Scientists beyond the University can get access to the tools – and the huge computing power needed to run the simulations – in a user-friendly format in a web browser.
Leaders in the project note that IU Students will benefit from this project as the first people in the world to gain hands-on experience with the simulation technologies. The new grant will also support six Ph.D. Students.
This work puts our intelligent systems engineering program at the forefront of an extremely exciting, emerging field. The efforts led by Geoffrey Fox and colleagues will advance IU's reputation as a world leader in the design of these extremely complex devices with vast potential to benefit human health.
Raj Acharya, Dean, The School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, Indiana University
Other leaders involved in the project are IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering faculty members James A. Glazier, an expert in the simulation of physical systems in the body; Paul Macklin, an expert in the simulation of cancer tissue; and Vikram Jadhao, an expert in the simulation of the materials used in nanoscale devices.
As director of the IU Biocomplexity Institute, Glazier headed the development of a software program known as CompuCell3D, which has been employed to simulate systems such as the absorption of painkillers in the liver and tumor growth in polycystic kidney disease. The grant-funded project’s first phase will increase access to these and other tools created in-house at IU. Later, the Scientists aim to incorporate tools from the broader scientific community into the platform so that they will also be available more widely.
The project’s additional Lead Researcher is Trevor Douglas, a Professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry, whose lab will assist in conducting tests of nanoscale devices in biological conditions in order to confirm the accuracy of the Researchers’ computational models and software simulations. Douglas, an expert in biomimetic nanomaterials, concentrates on work involving nature-inspired engineering systems.
The IU Pervasive Technology Institute is also a collaborator on this project. The institute will expand the worldwide scientific community's access to the biotechnology and nanotechnology simulation tools supported under this grant as a part of the NSF's Science Gateways Community Institute.