At the Biointerfaces Institute (BI), founded at NCRC in January 2012, scientists redefine the frontiers of health sciences by fostering cross-disciplinary technological breakthroughs of nanotechnology, advanced materials, cell engineering, and microfluidics.
[pullquote align=”left”]“What we’re doing is changing a paradigm. We want to change the way [biomedical] technologies are developed.” -Joerg Lahann, Director[/pullquote]In just its first year, BI’s projects led to a unique polymer surface that can grow reprogrammed adult stem cells to produce specific cell types in mice. The new surface avoids the problems associated with growing stem cells on living tissue, representing a significant step forward for stem cell therapies. Another discovery was gold nanoparticles that can store large amounts of information while remaining “invisible” to the human immune system. That discovery could help researchers develop miniscule electrodes that can be attached to neurons to treat disorders like deafness, Parkinson’s and even Alzheimer’s.
Joerg Lahann, PhD, Director, Biointerfaces Institute, and Professor, Departments of Chemical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Macromolecular Science and Engineering, says, “What we’re doing is changing a paradigm. We want to change the way [biomedical] technologies are developed.”
BI is aided in its quest by another, equally critical type of interface—daily, face-to-face interactions among researchers from diverse disciplines—to break through silos, spur collaborations and drive innovation.
Interdisciplinary collaborations at BI help speed the translation of new research findings into practical applications. “We are pooling UM’s strengths in these different areas to focus on facilitating interactions between people who develop technologies—the ‘toolbox’ people—and people who have big research problems to solve,” said Prof. Lahann. Already, BI collaborations with researchers in the Translational Oncology Program have advanced research in stem cells and cancer drugs. “Facilitating those kinds of matches is what the Biointerfaces Institute is all about.”
This year the program ran two highly successful Research Challenges, one on Noble Metal Nanotechnology for Biomedical Applications, and one on Detecting Rare Cells and Particles. The Challenges bring researchers from different disciplines together to discuss a particularly challenging research topic. $430, 000 in seed monies were distributed to six research groups through this year’s two challenges. Detecting Rare Cells and Particles also became a launching pad for a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center grant proposal.
Participants include researchers from each of the BI’s four schools and colleges—Engineering, Dentistry, Medicine and Pharmacy—as well as faculty from LSA. BI has also invited industrial partners to participate in the Challenges. They are encouraged to view the topics from different angles to develop cutting-edge, collaborative research proposals.
Researchers whose proposals are selected receive not only seed monies, but also laboratory space in the BI Integration Space, which brings in non-BI academic and corporate collaborators to advance the bench-to-bedside timeline. Three external UM research groups are currently using the Integration Space.
The next challenge, on Nanomedicine, will be in November 2013.
BI is now home to 22 established research laboratories for collaborative research efforts between researchers from four different colleges or schools. 18 of the BI faculty have MCubed funding, including:
If a BI faculty member chooses to use his or her MCubed token with at least one other BI faculty, the Biointerfaces Institute will cost-share 50% of the BI faculty’s required MCubed contribution. If a non-BI faculty member attended a BI Challenge and created a successful MCubed project with at least one other BI Challenge participant, the Biointerfaces Institute will cost-share 50% of his or her required MCubed contribution.
BI researchers and collaborators have access to the NCRC’s Microscopy, Flow Cytometry, and Animal Facilities, and are looking forward to using the Electron Microbeam Analysis Laboratory. BI has also organized the equipment and instruments located in shared research spaces into suites of instruments based on research purposes, which allows researchers to work on various analytical tools without transporting samples large distances.
One example is the Nanotechnicum. The Nanotechnicum houses a number of analytic, characterization, and synthesis instruments. Its purpose is to provide material synthesis and characterization capabilities to generate large numbers of samples for translational research purposes, as well as to characterize those samples and materials for pre-clinical studies.
“NCRC gives us a home to build a research program where people from many different colleges can come together because they share the same research interests and philosophy,” said Prof. Lahann. “We are thrilled about being part of NCRC, because we believe that it is the ideal environment for interdisciplinary and translational research at the University of Michigan.”