New Mexico Hospital Starts $2.9M Nano Doctorate Programme

 
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2005 1:55 pm    Post subject: New Mexico Hospital Starts $2.9M Nano Doctorate Programme Reply with quote

University of New Mexico Hospital Launches $2.9 Million Nanotechnology Doctorate Programme

In the not-so-distant future, a submarine smaller than a red blood cell will travel through the body of a cancer patient at the University of New Mexico Hospital.

Using chemical signals to home in on its target - a tumor - it will deliver a cargo of drugs directly to where they are needed most, killing the tumor and bypassing other organs where they might cause harm.

The next crop of UNM doctoral students could find themselves building this submarine, and a host of other miniscule, futuristic devices in electronics and materials science, as part of a new fellowship program starting up in fall 2006.

The $2.9 million program, funded last week by the National Science Foundation and the National Cancer Institute, will create one of the first nanotechnology doctorate programs in the country. It is part of a larger $12.8 million effort by the agency that will create nanotechnology doctoral programs at UNM and three other universities across the nation.

Nanotechnology uses building blocks the size of atoms and molecules for a wide range of purposes, such as creating extremely hard and durable materials from the atomic level up and inventing medical devices like the submarine that can deliver drugs more efficiently.

"The nature of nanoscience is very interdisciplinary - it combines physics, chemistry, biology and other fields - which is why we're only just starting to see the first doctoral programs," said Diana Huffaker, program director and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UNM. "Now that we have funding, we're going to start looking for our first students from all those fields."

The program will take six to 10 students a year and has been funded for five years, although Huffaker hopes it will continue beyond that time.

It will include three specialty areas:

Materials science, in which students will create new types of building blocks and coatings to be used in everything from construction to clothing.

Information technology, in which students will develop new types of computer hardware to transmit data much more quickly. One idea is to create a computer that transmits information with light, rather than electrons.

Cancer treatment, in which students will use nanotechnology to create both diagnostic equipment and drug delivery systems to fight cancer.

These technologies might sound futuristic, but several of them are already in the works, if not in use, said Larry Sklar, a doctor at UNM's Cancer Center who is leading the cancer research part of the program.

"People are already using nanoparticles in diagnostic tools," Sklar said. "With nanotechnology, we can make molecule-sized channels in diagnostic devices where small biological samples can be separated and tested. That can be extremely useful."

Small test devices mean less pin-pricks and prodding for patients, because doctors can analyze much smaller samples, he added.

"While our thrust in working on diagnostics and drug delivery systems is focused on cancer, there's no reason why these technologies couldn't also be used to fight other illnesses," Sklar said.

The funding will provide $30,000 stipends and cover tuition for each student. At least 20 percent of the students must come from New Mexico, Huffaker said.

Some of the students will also be offered internships at Sandia National Laboratories.

"This is the first step in what we hope will be a very successful program," she said. "We're just getting ready to recruit in New Mexico at New Mexico Tech, New Mexico State and UNM. We're also finalizing some graphics and fliers that we'll send out to other programs across the country. It's exciting to be part of the first crop of Ph.D. programs in the country in this area."

Source: The Albuquerque Tribune.

URL: http://www.abqtrib.com/albq/nw_science/article/0,2668,ALBQ_21236_4173114,00.html
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