Realities of relativity nudge researcher to alternate career plan

From a series profiling researchers and innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital

He’s a big thinker focused on harnessing the hyper-small. Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, is a leading drug delivery and biomaterials researcher, leveraging nanoparticle technology and other new vehicles to make medications safer and more effective.

It’s not quite what he had in mind as a child. He dreamed of studying life forms in remote galaxies.

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But when he became aware of the constraints of relativity, he re-focused his ambitions, ultimately concentrating on innovations in drug delivery. Here’s what he told us.

What goes on in the Kohane Lab?

The Kohane Lab produces many innovations, including injectable particles that can numb up painful parts of the body (prolonged duration local anesthesia), contact lenses that release drugs, new surgical glues and tiny particles (nanoparticles) that can be guided by lasers or other types of light to treat cancer and other diseases.

We were once asked by a company to develop a way to make microwaved pizzas smell better; that was deliciously random.

How is innovation sparked in your lab?

Sometimes the ideas come from me, but more often they come from the people in my lab. Sometimes the ideas are triggered by purely theoretical considerations, sometimes by something someone in the group saw in the hospital.

As examples of ideas derived from theory, Tal Dvir developed nanoparticles that would go all over the body but would only stop wherever you shine a light, and Aoune Barhoumi harnessed non-linear optics (household concepts like second harmonic generation) to trigger drug delivery within the body.

As examples of ideas derived from clinical practice, I once developed particles that could be injected into the brain to prevent seizures, and Brian McAlvin developed circuits that can pluck harmful molecules out of the bloodstream.

Which innovators or scientists would you most like to have dinner with?

Benjamin Matthews, MD, from Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, or Chris Weldon, MD, PhD, from Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. With our families and clinical schedules, we never seem to be able to make the time.

What innovation could you not live without?

Fire. It’s an example of what really matters—big inventions.


What makes you smile?

My family.

If you weren’t innovating at Boston Children’s, what would your dream job be?

To study life forms in remote galaxies.