Grand Opening Held for the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation BioNIUM Nanofabrication Facility

The new nanofabrication facility at the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami (BioNIUM) gives researchers the latest technology to make major advances in the fast-growing field of biomedical nanotechnology.

A grand opening for the cutting-edge “clean room” was held January 28 at UM’s Life Science and Technology Park. University and medical school leadership, faculty, and members of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation unveiled a plaque and donned white haz-mat suits so they could tour the specialized room, which provides a controlled, particle-free environment.

The University’s nanotechnology research enterprise is led by the Miller School of Medicine’s Richard J. Cote, M.D., the Director of BioNIUM.

Cote said that at just 2,800 square feet, the clean room is a powerhouse of technology.

“This facility is highly sophisticated and absolutely state-of-the-art,” said Cote, who is also professor and Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Chair of the Department of Pathology and Chief of Pathology at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “It is capable of filtering virtually every minute particle of dust and microbes from the air, a necessity when building devices at the nano and micro scale.”

To put that in perspective, Cote said a typical office building contains 500,000 to 1 million particles per cubic foot of air. A Class 100 clean room is designed to never allow more than 100 particles per cubic foot of air.

The goal is to create a field in which scientists can work with materials on a nanoscale – less than one-millionth of a millimeter in size – to diagnose and treat serious diseases.

Among the facility’s vast range of capabilities are an ability to deposit metal films as thin as a few hundred angstroms, which is required in the biomedical device industry; a photolithography facility that uses UV light to create micron-scale device patterns on silicon wafers; and an electron-beam lithography system that employs a focused electron beam to create nanostructures with sub-10 nm resolution.

Cote credited UM Provost and Executive Vice President Thomas J. LeBlanc, Ph.D., with recognizing the importance and broad application of the program for the entire University.

“Tonight we celebrate two of the key ingredients in world-class research: partnership and patience,” said LeBlanc, referring to the process of bringing the necessary resources and faculty to support an intensive research facility.

“Six years ago, UM set out to establish a state-of-the art biomedical nanotechnology program that would unite scientific disciplines across the entire University.

The goal was an institute that would link investigators from the Miller School of Medicine with University colleagues from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering to explore and develop novel applications of biomedical nanotechnology, by allowing chemists, engineers, physicists, and physicians to combine their unique talents in a multidisciplinary approach to find new tools for diagnosis and treatment of serious disease.”

The effort was a result of a vision shared by UM President Donna E. Shalala, Provost LeBlanc and, in particular, Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, and Jim Tien, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Engineering.

They recruited Cote to serve as Chair of the Pathology Department, where he started the process of creating the program. He, in turn, recruited Ram Datar, Ph.D., Co-Director of BioNIUM. Other recruits key to BioNIUM’s success include Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., M.S., Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Associate Director of BioNIUM, and Leonidas Bachas, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

BioNIUM was established in 2012 through a transformative $7.5 million gift from the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation. The cornerstone of BioNIUM is the clean room, which gives researchers a high-tech facility essential for both research and recruitment.

“The opening of the nanofabrication facility is a remarkable step forward in establishing the University of Miami as a worldwide leader in biomedical nanotechnology,” said Goldschmidt, who is also the CEO of UHealth. “It will provide tremendous learning opportunities for researchers and students who will be at the forefront of new discoveries, therapies, and cures. Those advances could lead to the early detection of disease, and more targeted delivery of highly specialized treatments. This will have a global impact on countless patients worldwide.”

Among the projects being developed at the institute are a novel filter that captures tumor cells circulating in the blood, the use of nanotechnology to restore critical body functions, “smart pills” that can detect glucose and release insulin when needed, and encapsulating anti-cancer drugs into nanoparticles to be dispatched to tumors while protecting healthy tissue.

Engineers are devising new ways to encourage tissue regeneration and cross-department collaborations are exploring ways of using nanolayers to protect transplanted tissues from rejection and also to prevent pathogens from infecting food supplies. Immunologists are working with chemists on novel nanoparticles for what could be the basis for vaccines to treat many types of cancer.

Steven Pabalan, M.D., Chairman of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation, said the opening of the research facility is a fitting legacy for their namesake, as the Foundation was created to provide funding for programs designed to improve healthcare in the community.

“Dr. John T. Macdonald was a founding board member of Doctors’ Hospital, a surgeon and gynecologist,” said Pabalan. “When the hospital was sold in 1992, the funds were placed into the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation to serve as a charitable organization, dedicated to serving the needs of the Miami-Dade community, and finding solutions to healthcare issues.”

Since becoming a grant-making foundation in 1992, the Foundation has awarded more than $40 million to more than 350 organizations throughout the community.
A large part of that has been an ongoing partnership with the University of Miami that has resulted in more than $30 million in support of many UM initiatives.

An earlier gift to UM elevated the Miller School’s programs in genetic research to world-class stature through the creation of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics.

The Foundation’s generosity also led to the signature School Health Initiative, which makes it possible for the Miller School to provide comprehensive, primary healthcare to 15,000 children at nine Miami-Dade public schools.

The opening of the nanofabrication facility adds another signature piece for the Foundation to take healthcare to the next level.

“What is unique about this Foundation is their ability as partners to identify leadership roles, and to identify world-class physicians and clinicians and researchers in cutting-edge areas,” said Shalala. “Thanks to their leadership gift, we have taken a major step forward in advancing the institute’s research.”

Cote and LeBlanc also expect the facility will be used not only by BioNIUM, but by the broader University community, scientists throughout the region, and by local high-tech industries.

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