Donor shoots nanotechnology ahead at University of Miami
By Scott Blake
Bolstered by a new $7.5 million donation, University of Miami officials said Tuesday they plan to take their research to the next level in biomedical nanotechnology — a field they described as ripe for medical innovation and related business ventures.
The donation from the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation will go to the university's Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute, which is being named after its benefactor.
Scientists and researchers have high hopes for nanotechnology, which in the medical realm transcends the conventional study of cellular biology on a microscopic level by zooming down to an atomic or molecular scale.
The Macdonald Foundation donation will be used to build a "nano-fabrication" clean room — an ultra clean environment for scientific research; to recruit more scientific talent for the institute; and to fund related research and education, said Dr. Richard Cote, the institute's director.
The institute brings together physicians, physicists, engineers and chemists for three primary missions: early detection of disease, delivery of specialized treatments, and restoring tissue and organ function, the university said.
Dr. Cote said he and colleagues such as Dr. Ram Datar, co-director at the institute, developed nanotech products in California that led to startup companies there, and the same can happen in Miami.
"It will happen here," Dr. Cote told Miami Today, calling biomedical nanotechnology "a rich area in the development of patentable technologies" poised to "spin out new technologies that will become new companies and provide a new focus of economic activity" in Miami.
Already, he said, the institute has patents pending on some of its innovations.
Currently, the institute is mostly housed in labs at the university's Miller School of Medicine in Miami. The donation will allow for the creation of clean room space at the nearby University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, also in the health district northwest of downtown.
Dr. Cote said the foundation's donation gives the university greater flexibility to use the money for facilities and recruiting the expertise needed to "propel the program" to the next level, compared with a government grant that would have restricted the money to research.
Among the projects already being developed at the institute are a filter that captures tumor cells circulating in the blood; using nanotechnology to help restore eyesight; devising "smart pills" that can detect glucose and release insulin when needed; and encapsulating anti-cancer drugs into nano-particles dispatched to tumors while protecting healthy tissue, the university said.
"There are a number of technologies that are still in the lab" that could be brought into clinical use and the commercial market, Dr. Datar said.
Aside from potential medical advances, he added, the institute could become a magnet for related-industry and jobs.
"With this gift," University of Miami President Donna Shalala said in a statement, "the university is poised to become an international leader in the exploding field of nanotechnology."
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