Wednesday, November 22 , 2017, 1:27 am | Fair 55º


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UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine Plants Seeds of Economic Development in Goleta Valley

Health-care research may lead to a bonanza of local business opportunities

Dr. Jamey Marth knew a partnership between UCSB and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute would produce great discoveries at the new Center for Nanomedicine. That was just over a year ago, and the research on the horizon is impressive.

“In a sense, setting up the center is an accomplishment, it is a unique enterprise,” Marth said of the partnership, the only one of its kind at UCSB. “It is pretty remarkable to do this, I think, and there have been some very valuable research discoveries made.”

Dr. Jamey Marth, director of UCSB's Center for Nanomedicine, met with Goleta city officials last week to compare notes and outline objectives the research facility and the city have.
Dr. Jamey Marth, director of UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine, met with Goleta city officials last week to compare notes and outline objectives the research facility and the city have. (Valerie Kushnerov photo)

The center brings together the bioengineering expertise found at UCSB and the cutting-edge medical research of Sanford-Burnham, whose mission is to understand the underlying biological mechanisms of good health, or disease. The center, which is on the UCSB campus, is focused on research in nanomedicine, working on an atomic level.

“We are working on a new approach to targeting drugs to cancer,” Marth said. “It is a major finding and it could change the way that all cancer drugs are administered.”

The center has been working on a new drug targeting system using nanotechnology that would illuminate cancer cells and allow drugs to reach just the cancer, without destroying the surrounding tissues along the way.

“We are excited about new ways to diagnose diseases and get drugs to the right places,” Marth said. “These are all things that are needed to get a good control of and to develop the future of health care.”

Developing the future of health care through research at the Center for Nanomedicine is good for the local business sector in the Goleta Valley. According to Vyto Adomaitis, the city of Goleta’s director of redevelopment and neighborhood services, having a research center at UCSB opens up the possibility for new businesses to create high-paying biotech jobs locally.

“We think its an exciting venture,” Adomaitis said. “We think that having a nanomedicine research center there at UCSB fits in here in the Goleta Valley. We see this as an exciting venture for not only local but global significance.”

In a sign of just how important the venture could be to the adjacent community, a phalanx of top Goleta officials toured the facility last week. Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell led a contingent that included her City Council colleagues — Roger Aceves, Michael Bennett, Ed Easton and Paula Perotte — as well as City Manager Dan Singer; Steve Chase, the city’s planning and development director; Adomaitis; and several key planning officials.

One of the ideas the center has is to license discoveries out to local startups to build the life-saving technologies needed to send the research from the laboratory to the doctor’s office. This is great for the local economy, according to Kristen Amyx, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“Having a center like this is terrific for Goleta,” Amyx said. “Not only is it a prestigious research institute, but it is a unique partnership between the university, a private nonprofit medical research foundation, and, hopefully, soon the community. I hope they become a shining example of how this kind of partnership can benefit the economy and jobs in the Goleta Valley.”

One of the ways UCSB and the research center are coming together is through the use of the AlloSphere Research Facility, a three-story, echo-free cube that facilitates collaboration through 3D, 360-degree projections of visual and auditory representations of research data.

The AlloSphere takes scientific data and mixes it with digital art to give scientists a one-of-a-kind visual perspective on their research. Through complex mathematics and creative visualizations, researchers are able to visualize the data they collect from CT scans, experiments and measurements from atoms.

3D images provide a unique visual perspective of scientific research at the AlloSphere Research Facility.
3D images provide a unique visual perspective of scientific research at the AlloSphere Research Facility. (Valerie Kushnerov photo)

JoAnn Kuchera-Morin is a UCSB media arts and technology professor and director of the AlloSphere. According to Kuchera-Morin, the AlloShpere has allowed researchers to actually see what is happening on an atomic level in the research they are conducting.

“Doing this with specific research areas, especially the work with Dr. Marth, has been truly rewarding because it advances important scientific discovery in curing many diseases and debilitating conditions that will help to advance the human condition,” Kuchera-Morin said. “Especially with Dr. Marth’s work, we are able to move from the nanoscale out to the full-body level and advance scientific and medical discoveries holistically.”

With the AlloSphere, the Center for Nanomedicine is truly a collaborative endeavor. Research scientists from Sanford-Burnham work side-by-side with chemists, biologists and engineers from UCSB, as well as digital and media artists to work creatively toward an important solution.

“We need a multidisciplinary community to tackle some of the most important research questions,” Kuchera-Morin said. “The university has a very large and important research community and a community of minds united under a single infrastructure. This speeds up the process of partnering heterogeneous groups together.

“Our community has all of these researchers working together on a research project with the media artists and scientists advancing information technology systems and computation that will speed time to discovery.”

Noozhawk intern Jeremy Zeller is a senior at UCSB.

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