Nanotechnology and the Study of Human Diseases
06/10/2006 12:00 PM KresgeSubra Suresh, ScD '81, Dean, MIT School of Engineering; Description: Subra Suresh fleshes out the promise of nanotechnology, at least in regard to our understanding of disease. His talk, which focuses on malaria and its impact on red blood cells, demonstrates how the fields of engineering, biology and medicine are converging.
To function properly, he explains, a red blood cell -- eight micrometers in diameter or 1/10th the thickness of a human hair -- must be able to squeeze through three micrometer openings in blood vessels. Working with a -laser tweezer" and two tiny (nano-sized) glass beads, Suresh can apply pressure to stretch single cells so that they become thin enough to fit through small openings. He uses a computer to simulate in three dimensions how red blood cells might fold and lengthen under normal conditions in the human body.
With malaria, infected red blood cells lose their ability to stretch, and Suresh can measure precisely the degree of deformation. The parasite changes the molecular structure of the cell, which -becomes stiff and sticky," unable to move through small blood vessels. So the spleen, which normally clears impurities from the body, can't do its job, and the disease progresses.
With a global group of collaborators, Suresh is working on genetic manipulation of the malaria parasite to see how knocking out individual proteins might impact the structure of the infected cell. This kind of biomolecular measurement and manipulation may some day lead to new therapies for a disease that infects more than 400 million people per year.
Suresh is also applying nanotech approaches to other diseases. He is looking into how cancer cells -become less stiff, move more easily, leading to metastatic invasions." This may ultimately prove useful in studying breast cancer, he says.
About the Speaker(s): Subra Suresh received his Sc.D. from MIT in 1983. Prior to joining the MIT faculty in 1993 as the R. P. Simmons Professor, he was Professor of Engineering at Brown University. His current research focuses on experimental and computational studies of the mechanical responses of single biological cells and molecules and their implications for human health and diseases.
Suresh is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, serving as the Vice Chair of its Materials Section Peer Committee, and a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering. His recent honors include the Gordon Moore Distinguished Scholar award from CalTech, the Brahm Prakash Visiting Professorship from the Indian Institute of Science, selection by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited researchers in Materials Science, the Clark B. Millikan Visiting Professorship at CalTech, the TFR Swedish National Chair in Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
Suresh has been elected a fellow of The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Ceramic Society, and the American Society for Materials International, and an Honorary Member of the Materials Research Society of India.
Host(s): Alumni Association, Alumni Association
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