Balaji Sitharaman, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is a 2010 recipient of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award. Only a select group of early-career biomedical researchers nationwide receive this award, which includes a five-year $1.5 million grant. Sitharaman is engineering a nanotechnology-based theranostic (integrating therapeutic and diagnostic) technology for combined non-invasive imaging and targeted treatment of bone loss, a major health problem worldwide due to trauma, disease, and aging, including menopause.
The NIH Director’s New Innovative Award was created as part of the NIH’s commitment to increasing opportunities for new scientists who are exceptionally creative and propose highly innovative research projects. The NIH touts these investigators as having bold ideas that have the potential to catapult fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health.
“Securing the NIH grant is a terrific achievement for Dr. Sitharaman, and his work helps support critical research and technology development in the bioengineering of bone healing,” said Clinton T. Rubin, Director of the Center for Biotechnology, Distinguished SUNY Professor, and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“Receipt of this NIH award for Dr. Sitharaman’s laboratory is a great reflection on the creativity and quality of our School of Medicine faculty, the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and collaborative medical research at the University,” added Kenneth Kaushansky, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, School of Medicine.
Sitharaman’s proposed technology applies bone tissue engineering strategies and harnesses the physical properties of multifunctional nanonmaterials, which are single-walled carbon nanotubes and gold nanoparticles, and ultrasonic waves generated by a surface due to the absorption of pulsed laser light known as the photoacoustic effect.
“This is an innovative approach of treatment involving biophysical stimulation to differentiate progenitor cells to become bone cells, thereby enhancing the quality and quantity of bone formation in an exposed area,” explained Sitharaman. “We believe this work will provide new insights into the process of bone formation and how to treat bone loss, and lay the scientific foundation for future development of this theranostic technology.”
“Dr. Sitharaman’s groundbreaking work in nano-medicine is a superb example of the integration of materials science and medicine,” said Yacov Shamash, Vice President for Economic Development and Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The technology is a promising one in the frontiers of health care that could eventually help millions.”
Sitharaman envisions this technology upon complete development to be widely available in clinical settings. He contends it will be a safe, user-friendly technology, and suitable for patient populations in which standing is difficult, such as the frail, elderly, or those with spinal cord injuries.