Tiny Technology — Huge Results

USC Dornsife’s Mark Thompson co-delivers a keynote address at the recent inaugural UCLA-USC-Caltech symposium. Thompson discusses his pioneering tiny indium oxide devices that can detect the presence of a protein in the blood of ovarian cancer patients.
ByRobert Perkins

Sometimes the smallest tools are required to tackle the biggest problems. At the forefront of innovative research on cancer treatment and regenerative medicine, experts from the top research institutions in the greater Los Angeles area converged for the first-ever UCLA-USC-Caltech Nanotechnology & Nanomedicine Symposium on Oct. 17-18.

The two-day symposium at UCLA, which culminated two years of preparation, included leading chemists, engineers, biologists and medical researchers who shared insights about recent advances in the use of nanotechnology to solve medical problems.

“It’s delightful that we have the collaboration across the institutions in Los Angeles, including CalTech, USC and UCLA, and other institutions, such as City of Hope and Cedars-Sinai have been part of this as well,” said Randolph Hall, vice president of research at USC, who organized the event with UCLA’s Fuyu Tamanoi and Caltech’s James Heath. “I think we can have a great impact by working together.”

Mark Thompson, professor of chemistry at USC Dornsife and Chongwu Zhou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering teamed up to deliver a keynote address on the use of nanoribbon biosensor chips for cancer diagnosis.


Mark Thompson was ranked 12th in Thomson Reuters’ ScienceWatch list as one of the world’s most influential chemists in 2011. Photo by Max S. Gerber.

Thompson and Zhou have pioneered a new way to build the chips that involves a revolutionary top-down fabrication scheme that allows for better control of the manufacturing process. The tiny indium oxide devices can detect the presence of biomarker CA-125, a protein that shows up in elevated levels in the blood of individuals who have ovarian cancer.

Other presenters from USC included:

Travis Williams, associate professor of chemistry at USC Dornsife, who discovered a new technique to create high-contrast magnetic resonance imaging using nanoparticles that can combine and assemble themselves into structures under specific chemical conditions;

Richard Roberts, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at USC Viterbi, who created synthetic peptides that can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of oral cancers;

Bogdan Olenyuk, assistant professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC School of Pharmacy, who developed nanoparticles that target and then accumulate in tumors to allow for better imaging and drug treatment;

Andrew MacKay, assistant professor with a joint appointment at the School of Pharmacy and USC Viterbi, who is working to improve patient outcomes by fighting the dose-limiting side effects of potent drugs using protein polymer nanoparticles; and

Pin Wang, associate professor of chemical engineering at USC Viterbi, who engineered thick-walled nanoparticles that can deliver a controlled amount of an anticancer drug over a sustained period of time.

Several sessions were led by USC faculty, including MacKay, Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Zibo Li and Andrea Armani, who was recently named one of the nation’s “Brilliant 10” young researchers by Popular Science.

In addition, USC researcher Pu Shi from the School of Pharmacy won top honors for his poster about nanoparticles being used for the suppression of tumor growth.