Jan. 18, 2005 -- The Nanotechnology Foundation of Texas
has selected Rice University doctoral student Balaji
Sitharaman as one of two winners of the 2004 George
Kozmetsky Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in
Nanotechnology for his efforts to create a revolutionary
new class of contrast agents that could, for the first
time, allow magnetic resonance imaging of individual
"Balu is one of the best graduate students I have
worked with in my 30 years at Rice," said Lon Wilson,
professor of chemistry and Sitharaman's Ph.D. advisor.
"He's already produced six peer-reviewed manuscripts
that have been published or accepted by first-rank journals,
and it's likely that he'll double that by the time he
More than 25 million patients
in the U.S. undergo MRIs annually, and doctors use
contrast agents in almost of quarter of those procedures.
Contrast agents increase the sensitivity of the scans,
making it easier for doctors to deliver a diagnosis.
The most effective and commonly used contrast agent
is the toxic metal gadolinium.
Sitharaman has created new
forms of contrast agents by encasing gadolinium inside
fullerenes. Fullerenes are single molecules of carbon
atoms arranged in spherical or tube-shaped structures.
By enclosing the gadolinium inside the carbon molecules,
Sitharaman has simultaneously reduced the toxicity
of the metal to near zero while boosting its effectiveness
as a contrast agent.
One of Sitharaman's creations
is a buckyball encasing a single atom of gadolinium.
More recently, he has discovered a method of encasing
as many as 100 atoms of the metal inside a short length
of carbon nanotube. The resulting "gadonanotubes"
are 100 times more effective as contrast agents than
the best forms in clinical use.
In future work, Sitharaman
plans to use existing methods of attaching antibodies
and peptides to fullerenes to try to create a contrast
agent that will bind only with diseased cells such
as cancer cells. He is hopeful that these tissue-specific
imaging agents might allow for the first intracellular,
individual cell MRIs.
"I m grateful and honored
by this recognition by the Nanotech Foundation of
Texas and look forward to the benefit of our research
to diagnostic medicine," said Sitharaman. Sitharaman
and University of Texas at Austin student Aaron Saunders
were named as this year's Kozmetsky Award recipients
on Jan. 12. The prestigious award includes a $5,000
The awards are the first of
their kind offered to U.S. graduate students working
on nanotechnology. A Rice student has won one of the
two awards in each of the first two years they have
Competition for the awards
is fierce. For example, the scientific review board
that judged this year's applicants used a 400-point
scale, and the top four finishers were separated by
only 42 points.
The Nanotechnology Foundation
of Texas is an initiative funded by private individuals,
corporations, and other foundations to accelerate
research in nanotechnology by increasing the visibility
of nanotechnology research, expanding research funding,
and recruiting the best nanotechnology researchers
from around the world to come to Texas.