Student goes for gold

Nanomaterials are on the health-care horizon. Gold-based materials have long been used to reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and to improve biomedical imaging. They have intrigued Lisa Truong since she first heard about their potential to help solve intractable problems from cancer to heart disease.

Linsa Truong studies how gold nanoparticles behave in the body. (Photo: Nick Houtman)
Linsa Truong studies how gold nanoparticles behave in the body. (Photo: Nick Houtman)

Truong, who grew up in the Seattle area, wants to know how gold nanomaterials behave in the body. Through ONAMI’s Safer Nanomaterials and Nanomanufacturing Initiative, she is testing products from Professor Jim Hutchison’s University of Oregon lab, which has created “green” methods (highly efficient, precise and less toxic) for making gold nanomaterials.

“We actually know how they’re made every step of the way,” says Truong. Such information about manufacturing methods, chemical composition and purity is crucial for linking nanomaterial characteristics to the outcomes of tests in the OSU zebrafish lab.

Moreover, ONAMI provides Truong with direct access to information. “I can pick up the phone and ask questions about a nanomaterial I’m working with. I can ask how many ligands (a molecule that bonds with a metal) is on the surface of a nanomaterial, rather than have to look it up or wait online,” she says.

Truong’s desire for better health care is personal. As a child, she watched her grandparents struggle with heart problems. Diagnostic tests and treatments made them sick. “I didn’t want to be a doctor,” she says. “But I wanted to develop the technology that would help them.”

Lisa Truong is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology.