Profiles of Pioneers: Class of 2004–2009
Chad Mirkin, Ph.D.
“The Pioneer Award had a transformational effect on my research. It gave me the funds and the freedom to pursue a new line of research, which was a significant departure from my core, chemistry-based nanotechnology program.”
Nanomedicine—the medical application of nanotechnology—seeks to develop tools and techniques using building materials at the scale of atoms and molecules. These include advanced drug delivery systems, new therapies, live-cell imaging, neuro-electronic interfaces and tiny sensors. In time, researchers hope to create cell repair machinery to fix problems inside the body.
Dr. Chad Mirkin wanted to use his Pioneer Award to develop a series of powerful new tools for manipulating biological structures smaller than 100 nanometers. Working within the realm of nanotechnology and nanomedicine, he aims to create tools that will have important applications in various areas of medicine.
When Mirkin started, he says he had no biologists in his group. Now, there are six. Mirkin’s studies are pointing to a new line of experimental therapeutics.
First, Mirkin has created a sensitive new nano-tool—a bio-barcode—that could lead to a different way to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease, possibly helping find the illness early when there might be time for treatment. This would be a key advantage, since currently the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease definitively is by studying brain tissue from an autopsy. The new bio-barcode is 100,000 to 1 million times more sensitive than other available tests, Mirkin says.
He has also used DNA to build a three-dimensional structure out of gold, which is a very durable substance. In this work, Mirkin created two very different crystalline structures by attaching synthetic DNA to tiny gold spheres. A different DNA sequence in each strand creates a uniquely structured crystal. The technique is a major step toward the ability to custom-design functional materials using programmable self-assembly.
A third discovery may be a promising new weapon against heart disease. Mirkin created a synthetic high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, that could help fight chronically high cholesterol levels and the deadly heart disease that often follows. He designed a gold-based nanoparticle version of HDL that soaks up cholesterol like a sponge.
Georganopoulou D, Chang L, Nam J-M, Thaxton CS, et al. Nanoparticle-based detection in cerebral spinal fluid of a soluble pathogenic biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2005;103:2273-6.
Rosi NL, Giljohann DA, Thaxton CS, Lytton-Jean A, et al. Oligonucleotide-modified gold nanoparticles for intracellular gene regulation. Science 2006;312:1027-30.
Seferos DS, Giljohann DA, Hill HD, Prigodich AE, et al. Nano-flares: probes for transfection, RNA visualization, and detection of transcripts in living cells. J Am Chem Soc 2007;129:15477-9.
Park SY, Lytton-Jean AKR, Lee B, Weigand S, et al. DNA-programmable nanoparticle crystallization. Nature 2008;451:553-6.
Thaxton CS, Daniel WL, Giljohann DA, Thomas AD, et al. Templated spherical high density lipoprotein nanoparticles. J Am Chem Soc 2009;131:1384-5.
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