March 02, 2011

Combining Nanotech Studies And Medicine

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


Imagine a memory chip that replicates the amazing data storage capabilities of DNA. Or computer chips that can be inserted in the spine to cure paralysis.

Discoveries such as these could one day be made by medical doctors who specialize in nanotechnology.

And on Tuesday, officials at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and SUNY Downstate Medical Center disclosed how they plan to educate these researchers of the future through a joint M.D. and Ph.D. program.

Students would complete the program in seven years and split their time between the Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road and SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn.

SUNY Downstate President Dr. John LaRosa, known for his research in heart disease, said that medical research into nanotechnology, which looks at medicine at the atomic level, offers the same promise as research into the human gene.

"I put nanomedecine in that same category," LaRosa said. "The ability to work with molecules is something that we're only at the beginning of. ... I do think this is one of the two most important areas where progress is going to be made in the next generation."

LaRosa said only a small percentage of medical students decide to tackle a grueling combined M.D./Ph.D. program at SUNY Downstate. But he said the school is one of the top medical colleges in the United States for producing medical professionals who hold academic appointments. And he said 80 percent of its graduates remain in New York state for the medical careers.

LaRosa said he has visited Albany NanoTech several times and is impressed with the facility and with Alain Kaloyeros, chief executive of the NanoCollege. He said it is perfect for the two institutions to work together because both medicine and nanotech will be huge drivers of the economy of the future.

"Health care is going to be a big issue for the baby boomers and their children," LaRosa said. "This is the way upstate New York moves out of the trouble it's in. The vehicle for this is going to be SUNY."

The joint program will be administered by Sara Brenner, a medical doctor who is assistant vice president for NanoHealth Initiatives for the NanoCollege, and Dr. Mark Stewart, dean of SUNY Downstate's School of Graduate Studies.

Under the program, students will spend their first two years in Brooklyn, with summer work in Albany. Years three through five would take place in Albany, and the last two years would be clinical rotations through the medical school. Kaloyeros said that funding would be available as it is for all graduate students at the NanoCollege.

"This is the right time to be training a medical work force in technology that will undoubtably revolutionize health care," Stewart said.

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