Hamid Ghandehari, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and director of the Center for Nanomedicine and Cellular Delivery at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, is developing extremely small "nanoparticles" that can deliver drugs to cancer cells.
Marc Porter, a chemistry professor and director of the Center for Combinatorial Sciences, at Arizona State University, is inventing substances that can sense cancers or other diseases at very early stages.
"They are both leaders in nanotechnology and they both bring large research programs with them," Richard Brown, dean of engineering at the University of Utah, said Friday.
Nanotechnology is a branch of science and engineering focused on designing tiny devices built from individual atoms and molecules. Both men will work at the university. Their salaries will be paid by USTAR, which was created by the Legislature last year.
Ghandehari, who received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Utah, is working on what he said are drug-delivery devices that work at the molecular level to track down cancer cells and kill them.
"To do so, you really have to have nanoconstructs, and then on those you can . . . incorporate targeting [drugs] that actually hone in on the cancer cell. You also have to tailor them so they can be internalized in the cell," Ghandehari said.
Brown said Ghandehari is working in an area of medicine with enormous commercial potential. He cited a study by the Freedonia Group, a research firm that claims the market for nanotechnology medical products and devices will exceed $110 billion a year by 2016.
"I don't think anybody would argue that it's a huge opportunity economically, as well as a huge opportunity to help people live longer and healthier lives," Brown said.
Brown said Porter wanted to come to Utah because of the university's interest in transferring scientific research into commercial products.
"The No. 1 attraction was that the University of Utah knows how to do technology transfer and he was being a little frustrated at this other place," Brown said.
Porter holds 10 patents and has several more pending. He has established four companies and is bringing two of them with him. Nanoparts manufactures gold nanoparticles, a widely used material for chemical, biomedical and other purposes.
Another company, Concurrent Analytical, develops immunoassay systems for detecting proteins that protect against infectious agents.
His latest research is focused on detecting disease-causing pathogens at extremely low concentrations.
"The earlier we can detect the presence of these [microorganisms] the earlier we can launch counter measures," Porter said.