Last Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health announced that they were awarding a $2 million grant to UCSB to be used for discovering biomedical applications of nanotechnology.

The grant will be used by the Material Research Laboratory on campus, which is conducting the research as a collaboration with different prestigious schools around the nation. The grant is being used specifically for research on potential nanoparticles that can be used to diagnose heart and lung disease, as well as particles which could treat plaque build-up — which may cause an increased risk of heart attack or stroke — within the body.

“The ultimate aim of the grant is to develop multifunctional nanoparticles for the diagnosis and treatment of heart and lung disease,” Craig Hawker, director of the Materials Research Laboratory, said. “More specifically, we are interested in the diagnosis and treatment of vulnerable plaque, which is one of the major causes of heart attacks and stroke.”

Potentially, the nanoparticles can be used to treat plaque build-up by locating the vulnerable plaque and treating it by releasing therapeutic agents.

“The idea is to be able to detect plaque, and especially vulnerable plaque, at an early stage and, with the same nanoparticles, deliver therapeutic agents to stabilize and treat the plaque.” Hawker said.

This grant is based on previous nanotechnology research done with Washington University. The research involved finding nanomachines that had long blood-circulation lifetimes, allowing them to remain in the bloodstream longer and perform therapeutic or diagnostic actions within the body.

“This is a new grant, but it is based on past collaborations with Washington University, in which we developed a series of multifunctional nanoparticles that have long blood-circulation lifetimes, targeting peptides on the surface and diagnostic PET [positron emission tomography] agents in the interior.” Hawker said.

This grant also comes during a time in which another organization on campus, the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, has also received a grant regarding nanotechnology.

“Notably, CNS does have an award announcement of our own coming up,” Barbara Gilkes, assistant director of CNS, said.