College of Science launches first of its kind nanomedicine major for undergraduates

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When Gigi Grogan heard the Virginia Tech College of Science would begin offering a new nanomedicine major this fall, the junior knew she found her niche.

“Nanomedicine is exactly what I’ve been hoping and planning to study since the day I first stepped foot on this campus, focusing my energy on preparing for a future career of nanoscience in medicine,” said Grogan of Dunkirk, Maryland, who declared nanomedicine as her major soon after it was approved by the university.

The new major is being shepherded by Randy Heflin, director of the nanoscience division within the Academy of Integrated Science, part of the College of Science.   Heflin says the new major is another feather in th cap of the College of Science.   Why?

“There is no undergraduate nanomedicine major at any university in the United States, which gives Virginia Tech a unique opportunity to be an educational leader in a rapidly growing frontier area,” said Heflin, also the associate dean for research for the College of Science and a professor in the Department of Physics.   “We anticipate anywhere from 20 o 40 students, mostly freshman and sophomores, will declare the nanomedicine major this semester.”

The new major is part of Virginia Tech’s nanoscience degree program, one of two such programs in the nation.   The nanoscience degree program currently has approximately 90 students and will now have nanoscience and nanomedicine as majors within the degree, with the first class set to graduate in 2020.

Nanomedicine refers to the use of extremely small materials and devices – from 1 to 100 nanometers in size – in therapy and the diagnosis and treatment of disease.   This includes targeted drug delivery, regenerative medicine, and personalized medicine.   Virginia Tech is no stranger to nanomedicine.   in the Department of Chemistry, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry David Kingston created in partnership with biotech firm CytImmune Sciences a potential new cancer drug that uses gold nanoparticles to deliver paclitaxel directly to a tumor.   The drug has been tested in animals and significantly reduces the cancer compared with paclitaxel alone.

“Nanomedicine provides a broad training across the life and physical sciences, and undergraduate research is a key element of the program,” Heflin said.   “Nanomedicine students will be well-prepared for professional and graduate school as well as exciting careers in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and products, and many related areas.”

The new major came about after the College of Science began seeing a group of students in the nanoscience program who were far more interested in the life sciences aspect of the field versus the physical science aspect.

Nanomedicine students will take the life sciences versions of introductory physics and calculus, and also will take introductory biology, which is not required of current nanoscience majors.   In addition, to new nanomedicine courses, the students will also choose electives from a suite biomedically-oriented courses from several departments and colleges across campus.

Grogan said she entered Virginia Tech intent on focusing on cancer research.  “I hope to use the skills and knowledge that I develop at Virginia Tech in the nanomedicine major during my time in medical school as well as my career as a doctor,” she added.

“After volunteering in a pediatric radiation oncology unit the summer after my freshman year of college, my interest in pursuing the specialty of pediatric oncology was piqued.  Since then, my aspiration to care for children with cancer is what pushes me to stay motivated and work harder each and every day to lead me closer to my goal, allowing my passion for science, health care, and service to shape the reality of a future serving children with cancer.”

Grogan is joined by others, including Connor Murphy, a sophomore from Radford, Virginia.   A past attendee of the College of Sciene’s NanoCamp, Murphy said he was “drawn to the fact that nanoscience and nanotechnology is a rather new and cutting-edge field that I wanted to be a part of.”

Set on a career in pharmacy, he added, “The Nanomedicine major teaches you the fundamentals of nanoscience while simultaneously putting more of an emphasis on the chemical and biological aspects of nanoscience.”

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