Using BioNanotechnology to Solve Medical Problems

 

IEEEtv:
Congratulations on winning the 2012 EMB Technical Achievement Award!
What can you tell us about breakthroughs in your field?

Dr. Bashir:
I was very honored, to receive that award this year, and this is really a testament to the hard work of my group, of my post-docs, and students, over the many, many years. We were very excited about the possibilities of applying, micro-nanosensors, a 'lab on a chip,' and microfluidics, and these technologies to solving important problems in biology, and medicine. We think that there can be some very important advances to be made in the use of these technologies, to apply in cancer, in infectious diseases, and in many other problems that are facing the field of medicine. Bringing diagnostic to the patient - the idea of, rather than taking the patient to the lab, we want to take the lab to the patient, and build these lab on chips that can provide rich information about the patient, at the point of care.

IEEEtv:
Please give us an example of your bio-bots.

Dr. Bashir:
My group has always, actually, worked on lab on a chip, and microfluidics devices where we have built devices with silicone, or glass, or polymers, and, in the recent years, there has actually been a lot of advances made with the idea of trying to build with soft materials. My group is also very interested in building devices with soft materials, and biological materials, and the basic premise behind it is that, as engineers, we've always built structures with very predictable hard materials. And the question is, moving forward, can we forward engineer, and design, structures with cells as a building block. That's really what we did in a recent project where we use cardiac cells that we plated on printed, soft, biological robots that are millimeter-scale devices, which can actually move, and show autonomous actuation with every beating of the cardiac cells. So, that was some of the recent work that we had done in development of these autonomous biobots.

IEEEtv:
When do you expect commercial devices to be available?

Dr. Bashir:
There's been a lot of research, a lot of great research done in the, in the last ten to fifteen years in the field, and we are already starting to see the fruits of that hard work by many leaders in the field, and we're starting to see, now, technologies that are being translated to small companies, or technologies that have been licensed out to bigger companies. So we expect that in the next five to seven years, we should see many of these point-of-care technologies out in the marketplace.

IEEEtv:
How do you see this work improving cancer treatment?

Dr. Bashir:
Specifically, in the area of cancer, one of the, the main challenges is to be able to detect the disease as early as possible, so that's where micro, and nanotechnology can play a very important role in trying to build devices where we can, let's say, take a sample of body fluid, such as blood or saliva, or serum, and look for cancer biomarkers at a very low-concentration, and also, at the same time, use very, very small, minute samples, and be able to look at multiple potential biomarkers of interest. That's where multiplexed biosensors can really play a very important role, and there's already examples out in the field, and in the literature, and also being translated through small companies, where researchers have developed devices on a chip, which can detect multiplexed biomarkers of cancer.

IEEEtv:
What advice can you share with students considering bioengineering as a career?

Dr. Bashir:
This is actually a great time, I think, to be studying, and doing research in this field. I wish I could also go back and study again. There's such important problems to be solved, especially in this grand challenge of medicine - trying to lower the health care cost, trying to, turn many of these diseases that, in the past were not considered chronic, we want to now turn them into chronic disease, where they can be managed, essentially. So, there's tremendous opportunities, I think, for students in this field. There is a lot of advances being made, in the area of synthetic biology, system biology, building with biological structures, microfluidics, nanotechnology. So this is really a great time to be working in this field, and there's a lot of contributions to be made.