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Institute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology and Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3)

UC Berkeley scientists bring promising research to new California bioscience institute
07 Dec 2000

By Catherine Zandonella, Media Relations

Berkeley - Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, will apply their expertise in physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science to the revolution in health science as part of the new California Institute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology and Quantitative Biomedical Research. The institute, a partnership with UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz, is one of three new California Institutes for Science and Innovation. The centers were selected by Gov. Gray Davis to help maintain California's leading role in science and technology.

The research projects UC Berkeley is undertaking include:

Building Bio-MEMS (Bio-Microelectronic Mechanical Systems)

Dorian Liepmann, associate professor of bioengineering, and Luke Lee, assistant professor in bioengineering, are building miniature machines that can be implanted in the body to perform a variety of functions such as delivering medications, detecting diseases and possibly even acting as surgical devices. Trained in the science of fluid mechanics, Liepmann is working through the challenges of how to mix infinitesimally small amounts of liquid in a device no bigger than a thumbnail. Using the same technology that produced the computer chip, Liepmann and his UC Berkeley colleagues hope someday to mass produce these devices, providing inexpensive ways to continuously deliver drugs and diagnose diseases.

Engineering New Tissues

Kevin Healy, associate professor in the departments of bioengineering and materials science and engineering, applies his training in chemical engineering to the goal of building synthetic materials that mimic those found in the human body. His goal is to make synthetic implants that integrate with the body and are not rejected. Healy's biomimetic materials can actively direct the behavior of mammalian cells to promote the growth of cells into bodily tissues. The materials may even be used to create tiny devices that could some day restore movement to paralyzed limbs or create effective prosthetic devices.

Making Models of the Cell

Adam Arkin, assistant professor of bioengineering and chemistry, aims to understand the biochemical processes in the cells via the nexus of computer science and molecular biology. Arkin is designing computer models that simulate the workings of complex cellular processes, keeping track of vital cellular activities like gene expression, cellular division and metabolism. To track the numerous biochemical processes that compose living systems, Arkin and his colleagues are developing a computer program they call BioSPICE, named for the UC Berkeley-created SPICE simulation program widely used by computer scientists to evaluate computer circuits. Arkin is also an assistant investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a researcher in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's physical biosciences division.

Using Bioinformatics to Decode Disease-Causing Genes

Richard Karp, professor of computer science, has a long history of using computers and mathematical algorithms to understand how genes and living cells work. A widely recognized leader in the application of computing to biotechnology, Karp worked on algorithms to mine the data generated by the human genome project. Now, he is turning his attention to analyzing data from DNA chips, tiny devices that can measure the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously. He has discovered a new way to quickly scan DNA chips for genes of interest to researchers. Knowing which genes are expressed can lead to personalized drugs or better diagnostic tools for prostate cancer.

Discovering What Drives Biological Motors

Carlos Bustamante, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, is collaborating with professor of molecular and cell biology Eva Nogales to use cutting-edge technologies to study tiny biological machines inside the cell. Using moving parts made from molecules, these machines perform a variety of tasks including copying DNA and reading the genetic code so that proteins can be made. To examine these machines, Bustamante's toolbox includes atomic force microscopy, where a tiny tip is dragged over the molecular motor to feel its contours the way a record player needle feels the grooves of a vinyl record. He also uses fluorescent dyes to track the movement of single molecules as well as optical tweezers, a laser-driven device capable of picking up individual molecules. Nogales and Bustamante are working to integrate these techniques with cryo-electron microscopy to obtain highly detailed three-dimensional models of the motor's structure. Both scientists are researchers in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's physical biosciences division.



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