National Biotech Center Promises Health Care Applications
Albany, August 11, 1999 – The Department of Health's Wadsworth Center laboratories will be a major component of a new Science and Technology Center on Nanobiotechnology announced July 30 by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Science Technology Centers (STCs) are designed to support fundamental research, encourage technology transfer and create educational opportunities in emerging fields.
"As upstate's economy continues to grow, the addition of this new technology center firmly establishes New York as a world–class center for biotechnology research and development," said Governor George E. Pataki. "The intellectual capital that the Department of Health's Wadsworth Center contributes to the technology partnership underscores the promise of health–related benefits from biotechnology, and reinforces New York's Capital Region as an area ripe for improved products, new industries and highly skilled jobs."
Nearly 300 institutions across the country began competing a year ago for an STC, culminating in the announcement that NSF is committing $94 million a year to support five new centers for five years. The consortium that constitutes the nanobiotechnology center –– the only new STC in the northeast –– is led by Cornell University, with Wadsworth as a principal site for biological applications, along with Princeton and Oregon Health Sciences universities.
Nanobiotechnology, the application of the miniature fabrication technologies of the integrated circuit industry to complex biological systems, holds great promise for developing products for biology, medicine and biotechnology. For example, understanding how brain cells called neurons communicate could lead to the development of neural prosthetics to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson's disease or other neurological disorders. Such a neural implant is already being investigated by Wadsworth Center scientists, in collaboration with Cornell's Dr. Harold Craighead, who will direct the new center.
Wadsworth's critical role in the multidisciplinary STC will be to provide the fundamental biological knowledge and engineering development that will move products through the biotech pipeline. The specific scientific projects, and their Wadsworth directors, are:
- James Turner, Ph.D. –– a biophysicist and engineer who is Wadsworth's principal investigator for the STC and head of its technology development areas.
- David Lawrence, Ph.D. –– an immunologist isolating cells from the immune system, with an eye toward developing devices to improve clinical diagnosis of disease.
- William Shain, Ph.D. –– a neurobiologist whose studies of the blood–brain barrier have potential applications in drug discovery for treating brain diseases.
- David Martin, Ph.D. –– a neurochemist whose analysis of molecules that influence brain function will aid our understanding and treatment of brain diseases.
- Michele Caggana, Sc.D. –– a geneticist whose isolation and analysis of rare human cells may lead to less invasive methods to detect genetic disorders in a fetus.
In addition, education and outreach are integral facets of NSF Science Technology Centers. Wadsworth Center's Education Office, directed by Patricia Anders, will establish a wide–ranging educational program that will bring the concepts of "small science" to young students and their teachers. Chief among the outreach projects are a girls science club, a summer institute for teachers to develop hands–on activities and curricula, and a nanobiotechnology science workbook. Wadsworth researchers will also play important roles in educating college and post graduate students in the emerging field of nanobiotechnology.
While final budget details are not anticipated for a month, the STC on Nanobiotechnology originally requested nearly $4 million a year, with approximately $600,000 of those funds being earmarked for Wadsworth projects.