By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Boosting Maryland as a hub of nanobiotechnology research, legislators and higher education leaders joined yesterday to propose a $5 million state program to award research grants and lure private-sector firms to locate in the state.
The Coordinating Emerging Nanobiotechnology Research in Maryland Program would leverage federal and state money to establish new research centers and foster public-private partnerships.
Nanobiotechnology is an emerging field of research that combines engineering and life sciences to help identify new solutions to health-care and environmental problems.
The research requires microscopes capable of viewing matter that is approximately 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. It helps develop gene therapies for such diseases as cystic fibrosis and cancer as well as advances in homeland security.
The program would be created through legislation introduced by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery).
"This industry promises to change our world profoundly," Miller said. "It's a very significant step we're taking today."
Maryland is the wealthiest state in the union per capita and is home to such prominent academic research institutions as Johns Hopkins University as well as federal facilities such as the National Institutes of Health. Proximity to the nation's capital and an already vibrant biotechnology sector make the state an ideal hub for the nanobiotechnology research industry, Miller and Mizeur said.
Mizeur said that Maryland could become the "international epicenter" of the field.
"Maryland is putting the flag down: Come here," she said. "This industry is poised to be an economic blockbuster for Maryland."
Miller said he wants Maryland to be more competitive in luring nanobiotechnology firms.
"We're challenged by other states, but we're going to win," he said. "What we're looking to be is the leader, to be the first. We have the ideal location in Maryland to be the center of this industry."
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the state's $5 million investment in the research fund will be repaid "many times over" by the private investment that is sure to follow.
"Why Maryland? Why nanobiotechnology?" Kirwan asked. "Nanobiotechnology is going to be the next big thing."
The state fund would be overseen by the Maryland Technology Economic Development Corp., and the needed $5 million would have to be included in next year's budget. Miller said that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has agreed to support the initiative.
Nanobiotechnology research is important to the pharmaceutical industry as well as computer chip manufacturers, said Peter Searson, director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins.
Nariman Farvardin, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Maryland, described nanobiotechnology as a promising field.
"Nanotechnology is going to pave the way for another important revolution," Farvardin said.