Research Activities

Current Nanobiotechnology research at the USC NanoCenter focuses on four areas:

Bionanoparticle Technology

Bionanoparticles (BNPs) are naturally-occurring, self-assembled nanostructures such as viruses and hollow proteins that are amenable to genetic and chemical modification. Professors Q. Wang and C. J. Murphy at USC, in collaboration with Professor M. G. Finn at the Scripps Research Institute, will lead teams of students and researchers to explore the application of BNPs in materials and biomedical sciences. Currently, the BNP research at USC is concentrated on three general research directions of both fundamental and practical interest: (1) hierarchical self-assembly of BNP; (2) synthesis of BNP-based hybrid materials; and (3) BNPs as delivery vehicles. A “Keck Open Laboratory for Bionanoparticle Technology Discovery and Development” will be established to facilitate the collaborative efforts in using biological nanoparticles as scaffolds and building blocks for materials science and biomedical applications.

Bionanocomposite and Tissue Engineering

The challenge of tissue engineering is to develop suitable replacement materials/scaffolds with desirable mechanical strength, porosity and bioactivity to allow cell adhesion, migration, growth and proliferation, resulting in excellent integration with surrounding tissues. Our researches seek to develop novel nano polymer/biomolecule hybrid materials for such purpose.

For example, a novel in situ crosslinkable terpolymer has been developed in the Biomimetic Materials and Tissue Engineering laboratories (Director: E. Jabbari). By incorporating a biologically inspired amino acid sequence that specifically binds to the surface of apatite nanoparticles to provide interfacial bonding, the hydrogel nanocomposite provides structural support to the reconstructed region while degrading concurrently with the migration of the bone marrow stem cells to provide the space for tissue regeneration. In addition, self-assembled block copolymers, which possess unique orders on the nanometer scale, will be used as templates for bionanoparticle assembly, which will lead to a new type of bionanocomposite materials.

Drug Delivery, Diagnosis and Sensing

Nanostructured materials, such as inorganic nanoparticles, smart imprinted polymers, supramolecular complexes, and bionanoparticles, have been employed for the purpose of drug delivery, diagnosis and sensing. For example, in Professor J. Ritters laboratory, a novel noninvasive drug delivery method has been developed with ferromagnetic wire implanted under the skin next to the common carotid artery to assist in the collection of magnetic drug carrier particles containing magnetic nanoparticles at this site using an external magnet.

Toxicology and Environmental Impact of Nanostructures

Professor L. Ferguson has been awarded, along with other PIs, a $334,750 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study the “Chemical and Biological Behavior of Single-walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWNT) in Estuarine Sedimentary Systems”. The research seeks to determine the factors controlling the fate of SWNTs and their synthetic by-products in estuarine seawater, sediment, and sediment-ingesting organisms. The toxicity of these nanomaterials will be assessed for suspension- and deposit-feeding estuarine invertebrate models in seawater suspension and estuarine sediments. Active researches in the study of the toxicology and environmental impact of other nanostructured materials are undergoing at USC by a collection of professors.