Nano- and Microsystems Bioengineering covers two broad interrelated topics: Nanobiotechnology and BioMEMS. Nanobiotechnology is aimed at fabricating molecular elements and assembled clusters, materials, and devices that can be used as sensors, diagnostics and therapeutic entities. BioMEMS uses the microfabrication techniques that have revolutionized the electronics industry towards the development of chips and systems that have had tremendous impact on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries and are poised to significantly change the way medicine is practiced in the twenty-first century. Advances in nanofabrication and microfabrication are opening new opportunities to investigate complex biological questions in ways not before possible. In particular, the spatial regulation of cellular processes can be examined by engineering the chemical and physical environment to which the cell responds. Nanobiotechnology has also fostered the development of nanoscaled pharmaceutical delivery systems which include the use of micelles, liposomes, solid lipid nanoparticles, polymeric nanoparticles, functionalized nanoparticles, nanocrystals, cyclodextrins, dendrimers, nanotubes and metallic nanoparticles as new vehicles to deliver conventional pharmaceuticals, peptides, recombinant proteins, and vaccines with improved therapeutic efficiency and reduced side effects. Rutgers has emerging strength in some of these areas. For example, interdisciplinary research has been carried out to develop new nanoparticle delivery systems, which encompasses synthesis, functionalization, and analysis of effects on membranes, cells, and animals. A focus in nanobioelectronics has emerged with applications in health, energy, and environmental studies. Other work includes: novel biosensors, single molecule imaging and characterization using a robotic atomic force microscope, and nanoparticle studies for molecular imaging in disease.
In the area of BioMEMS, the two leading applications are "gene-on-a-chip" and “lab-on-a-chip” type technologies. Recently, however, advances in our understanding of cellular behavior in microenvironments have paved the way for the development of a new set of microdevices that support livings cells and tissues. These emerging living cell-based devices are expected to become key technologies in the 21st century of medicine with a broad range of applications varying from diagnostics, therapeutics, cell-based high-throughput drug screening tools, and basic and applied biological tools. For basic science applications, the ability to probe cells in a massively parallel manner will enable quantitative studies over large populations at single cell resolution. In small-animal studies, microfabricated devices that only use minute amounts of blood for analysis, would allow for repetitive sampling at multiple time points and minimizing the adverse effects of blood drawing. Increasingly higher degrees of miniaturization will open opportunities for implantable systems in small animals which serve as well characterized disease models. These devices, which could perform complex sensing functions and communicate through networks for information storage and processing, would enable higher throughput drug testing and development of new therapeutic approaches. For clinical applications, complete miniature labs for blood analysis at the bedside through point-of-care analyzers capable of comprehensive diagnosis are poised to reshape the delivery of health care, providing critical information for early and accurate diagnosis of disease states, risk profiling, and preventive medicine. Therapeutics will also significantly benefit from microsystems tools, including the ability to isolate specific cell subpopulations, which can be expanded, genetically modified, or engineered into specialized tissues for transplantation back to the same patient. In drug discovery, microfluidic devices may redefine the entrance criteria for clinical trials and test for these criteria in a time- and cost-effective way. The creation of microfluidic networks with single or small groups of cells individually addressed in a massively parallel system will enable rapid screening for lead compounds and may ultimately replace a large fraction of animal experimentation. These sophisticated micro-devices may also contain micro-engineered tissue units coupled to each other by complex microfluidic handling networks.