The University of Oregon has received a $1.6 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to explore the biological effects of exposure to precisely engineered nanoparticles that are being designed for diagnostic and therapeutic uses.
The three-year grant from the Keck Foundation's medical research program will involve six researchers: Mark Lonergan, Jim Hutchison and Andy Berglund, all UO professors of chemistry; UO biology professors Karen Guillemin and Eric Johnson; and Robert Tanguay, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University.
All are members of the Safer Nanomaterials and Nanomanufacturing Initiative (SNNI), directed by Hutchison and part of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).
"This award from the Keck Foundation puts us at the forefront of this quickly developing and promising field of nanotechnology," said UO President Dave Frohnmayer. "Nanotechnology has been described as being in its discovery phase. This newly funded project means the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the state, through ONAMI – Oregon's first Signature Research Center – can help build a green roadmap for the field."
The interdisciplinary project is designed to help researchers understand potential biological interactions of engineered nanomaterials and develop design rules for the development of nanoparticles with enhanced biological properties. The researchers will produce specific structures of nanomaterials, investigate their interactions with biological systems and then design new materials and nanoparticle libraries that have specific biological responses.
The biological testing will involve laboratory experiments using zebrafish, an invertebrate animal model system that was first developed for research at the University of Oregon. With zebrafish, researchers can monitor tissue-specific interactions with nanoparticles, developmental and acute toxicity, and the impacts of exposure on gene regulation.
The researchers will address existing gaps in the field, from the basic construction of nanoparticles to how they interface with biological cells. As the foundation for the project, the group will build upon the library of gold nanoparticles created by Hutchison using his patented green-chemistry approach.
"Our goal is to define the important interactions at the bio-nano interface, as well as the ground rules for producing nanoparticles that have very fine-tuned objectives," Hutchison said. "The end results could lead to a variety of future therapeutics that specifically seek out and destroy cancer cells or promote desired cell growth for tissue regeneration."
The Keck Foundation funds will cover just under $1 million in graduate and faculty research, with the remainder going toward the purchase of equipment and space for housing it. The instruments will go into the Lorry I. Lokey Laboratories, the underground portion of the Integrated Science Complex, where some of the project's research will be conducted.
The W.M. Keck Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations. Established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, the founder of Superior Oil Co., the foundation provides funds primarily in the areas of medical research, science and engineering.