Macdonald Foundation Gift Creates Collaborative Institute in Biomedical Nanotechnology
Propelled by a transformative gift from a longtime contributor, the University of Miami announced on March 27 the creation of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute, a collaboration of key scientific disciplines that will harness the field of nanotechnology for clinical applications.
The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation, a steadfast champion of varied initiatives at the Miller School, has expanded its remarkable support of the University with a Momentum2 leadership gift of $7.5 million to name the collaborative Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami (BioNIUM).
“With this gift, the University is poised to become an international leader in the exploding field of nanotechnology,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala. “We couldn’t be more pleased to have the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation as partners in this endeavor.”
The institute will link investigators from the Miller School with University colleagues from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering to explore and develop novel applications of biomedical nanotechnology, a field in which scientists work with materials on a nanoscale – less than one-millionth of a millimeter in size – to diagnose and treat serious diseases.
Utilizing different approaches from physicians, physicists, engineers and chemists, the multidisciplinary institute’s primary mission is three-fold: the early detection of disease, more targeted delivery of highly specialized treatments, and restoring tissue and organ function.
Gary Dix, chairman of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation, said “The Foundation is very proud of its work with the University of Miami, where we have developed world-class programs in human genetics and community and family health. We believe the next great opportunity is in the application of nanotechnology to medical problems, and are thrilled to participate in this groundbreaking effort.”
The institute is led by the Miller School’s Richard J. Cote, M.D., professor and Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Endowed Chair of the Department of Pathology, a renowned pathologist and acclaimed expert in nanotechnology. The institute co-director is Ram Datar, M.Phil., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and biochemistry and molecular biology, and the associate director is Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., M.S., professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
“Nanotechnology is the next great frontier in medicine,” said Cote. “This gift will allow us to develop and expand our science through greater collaboration, recruit outstanding researchers, and build the necessary facilities needed to perform this complex work. The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation has helped us take a huge step to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and manage disease much more quickly and effectively.”
Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and CEO of UHealth—University of Miami Health System, said the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation gift will provide for significant expansion of the institute’s core of investigators, basic and translational research programs, and infrastructure. “We are especially thrilled that this brings together our colleagues in engineering and the arts and sciences, creating a collaborative environment where new ideas can flourish. Applying the principles of nanotechnology to medicine will save and improve lives.”
Among the projects already being developed at the institute are a novel filter that captures tumor cells circulating in the blood, the use of nanotechnology to restore sight, “smart pills” that can detect glucose and release insulin when needed, and the encapsulation of anti-cancer drugs that can 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.
“The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute presents an exceptional opportunity to bring together researchers from throughout the University to develop nanotechnology tools, improve nanomanufacturing, and develop nanomedical applications,” said Leonidas Bachas, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Going forward, the institute will enable us to recruit the brightest minds in the field and make bionanotechnology a research priority.”
James M. Tien, Ph.D., D.Eng., NAE, dean of the College of Engineering, appreciates the impact of the gift from the Dr. John T. MacDonald Foundation. “It reflects a successful collaboration between the Miller School of Medicine, the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Science and also supports essential research currently underway in the Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute, where faculty from all three schools have already developed important interdisciplinary collaborations.”
The foundation’s mission of providing funding for programs and projects designed to improve health was also the impetus for two major gifts made to the University during the first Momentum campaign. One of these gifts elevated the Miller School of Medicine’s programs in genetic research to international stature. In honor of the foundation’s contribution to genetic research, the Miller School created the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and established the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Professor of Human Genomics, which is currently held by Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. The foundation also established a signature program that made it possible for the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health to provide comprehensive, high-quality primary health care services to children at nine Miami-Dade County schools. The newest gift brings the foundation’s total grants to the University and its Miller School of Medicine to $28 million.