Georgia Tech, Emory and Medical College of Georgia partner on Nanomedicine Center

Atlanta 13 October 2006The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and Medical College of Georgia (MCG) a grant to partner on a Nanomedicine Development Center (NDC) that will focus on DNA damage repair. With up to $10 million in funding, the centre will be Georgia Tech and Emory's third NIH-funded nanomedicine/nanotechnology centre in less than two years.


The centre, to be based at Georgia Tech in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, will be headed by Dr. Gang Bao, College of Engineering Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who will serve as director. Dr. William Dynan, associate director of MCG's Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics Programme and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular Biology, will be the associate director of the centre.

The centre will receive between $6 million and $10 million from the NIH over the next five years, and almost $3 million from the Georgia Research Alliance, a public-private partnership of Georgia universities, businesses and government created to build the state's technology industry.

"Georgia Tech is leveraging our strengths in nanotechnology and biomedical engineering to lead the way in the emerging field of nanomedicine, which has tremendous potential to make the practice of medicine more preventive and less invasive. This is the third nanomedicine/nanotechnology centre that the NIH has awarded to Georgia Tech and Emory University, and we are very pleased to have the Medical College of Georgia join us as a partner in this one. Together we are helping Georgia to emerge as a top state for nanomedicine", stated Dr. G. Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech.

"The continuing support of the NIH for the Emory and Georgia Tech programmes in nanotechnology and biomedical engineering demonstrates their confidence in our scientists, our research accomplishments and our institutions", stated Dr. James W. Wagner, president of Emory University. "Biomedical nanotechnology holds tremendous promise for the future of health care, and we are proud to play such a key role in this emerging field of science and medicine."

The new centre, called the Nanomedicine Center for Nucleoprotein Machines, is one of the NIH's Nanomedicine Development Centers, a key initiative of the NIH's long-term nanomedicine research goals. The centres are required to have highly multi-disciplinary scientific teams that include biologists, physicians, mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists.

"Georgia Tech's long-time partnership with Emory, developing partnership with Medical College of Georgia and collaborations with top researchers all over the world have helped attract the notice and considerable funding of the NIH", stated Dr. Don Giddens, dean of Georgia Tech's College of Engineering. "We are particularly pleased that this new centre includes a collaboration with the Medical College of Georgia and that an important impetus for our successful application came from the support of the Georgia Research Alliance."

The new centre will initially focus on understanding how the body repairs damage to DNA, a molecule that encodes genetic information in each cell - a problem that lies at the heart of many diseases and illnesses. As cells replicate, mistakes are created in the DNA that, if not repaired, cause defects that lead to illness. DNA breakage can also occur from ionizing radiation, which is found in the environment, cosmic rays, radon gas and even the soil, as well as in our bodies, primarily from potassium and carbon.

Learning how protein complexes repair DNA damage could be the key to understanding structure-function relationships in the cell nucleus' protein machines, called nucleoprotein machines, that synthesize, modify and repair DNA and RNA. This could someday be used to reverse genetic defects, cure disease or delay aging.

"We need to understand the basic engineering design principles underlying how cells repair DNA damage with high precision, and apply this knowledge to the development of novel therapeutic strategies for a wide range of diseases, including cancer", stated Gang Bao. "The probes, tools and methodologies developed in our NDC will be applicable to a wide range of biological and disease studies." Dr. Bao also directs the NHLBI Programme of Excellence in Nanotechnology at Emory and Georgia Tech.

"We are hoping that by studying the way natural machines are engineered by the body, we will develop the general principles that will allow us to engineer artificial machines that could carry out these processes in a therapeutic way, so you could fix genetic defects, for example", stated Dr. Dynan, who studies double-strand DNA breaks resulting from radiation exposure.

"Emory's biomedical engineering partnership with Georgia Tech has been an extremely productive collaboration joining the unique strengths of two outstanding institutions", stated Thomas J. Lawley, MD, dean of Emory University School of Medicine. "This new NIH grant and research centre will allow us to add yet another exciting direction to our research strengths in nanotechnology. We also are grateful to the Georgia Research Alliance for their continuing support of Emory's research."

In addition to top experts at Georgia Tech, Emory and Medical College of Georgia, top researchers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York University Medical Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology and German Cancer Research Center will also collaborate with the centre.

The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, a unique collaboration between a public engineering university and private medical school, is the no. 3 graduate programme of biomedical engineering in the country, according to rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

Leslie Versweyveld

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