University of Maryland School of Medicine receives $7,9 million grant for 'super' research magnet

Baltimore 11 August 2010The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a $7,9 million federal grant to acquire a superconducting 950 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) magnet that will help researchers unravel the mysteries of molecules and develop new agents to treat cancer, AIDS and other diseases. The grant is among the largest of its kind ever awarded by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The funds were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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The proposal to acquire the two-story spectrometer with the super magnet was a partnership between the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and two other University of Maryland campuses - the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UM). The instrument will be shared equally among the three campuses.

The University of Maryland will be the only academic institution in the United States and one of only two sites in the country to have a 950 MHz NMR spectrometer once it is installed in November of 2011.

David J. Weber, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the NMR core facility at UMB, is a co-director of the grant, along with Michael F. Summers, Ph.D., of UMBC, and David Fushman, Ph.D., of UM.

The eight-ton magnet produces a supercharged magnetic field that enables scientists to investigate the three-dimensional structure of biological molecules and study their interaction with the highest degree of resolution.

"NMR spectroscopy plays a critical role in many areas of cancer research, and having a 950 MHz NMR spectrometer on our campus is a phenomenal resource for researchers at our cancer centre. It will greatly enhance and speed our efforts to uncover new information about cancer and design new drugs to treat it", stated Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, and professor of medicine and director of the Programme in Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"We will be the only academic facility in the country to have this powerful magnet", stated E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "This technology is a testament to our status as a world-class research institution. The magnet will be a critical tool in our mission to use the latest in cutting-edge technologies in our labs to bring lifesaving new treatments to patients in the clinic."

The 22,3 Tesla magnet is so powerful that it could lift 50 cars and is so powerful that it creates a magnetic field approximately 400.000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. The equipment will be housed in the UMB NMR core facility, located at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and will be used by researchers from all three campuses as well as from institutions throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

The instrument initially will have 35 users - including 10 major core users - and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Dr. Weber. "Being able to observe molecules at the atomic-level eliminates a great deal of guessing when you're conducting complicated molecular experiments. We will have a much better ability to look at larger molecules and protein complexes with this powerful magnet - it's like working in a room with the lights turned on", Dr. Weber stated.

Dr. Weber's laboratory is developing small-molecule inhibitors geared to a family of calcium-binding proteins called S100 proteins, including one that currently is being tested in a clinical study at the cancer centre as a possible treatment for melanoma. Other cancer centre researchers are studying ways to help repair the DNA in cells that have been damaged by cancer.

"This 950 MHz NMR spectrometer is optimal for studying large proteins", explained David Fushman, an expert in protein structure and dynamics who is associated with the university's Center for Biomolecular Structure and Organization (CBSO). "This will allow us to move into structural and biophysical studies of protein assemblies that include more than 1000 amino acids, as well as large complexes of proteins and nucleic acids. We can begin to decipher interactions between important biological macromolecules that we could not study before. This is huge."

David Fushman conducts biochemical and biophysical studies to understand the molecular basis of how proteins are marked for degradation by a signaling protein called ubiquitin. Once a protein is tagged by ubiquitin chains, it is then disposed of by a multi-molecular complex called the proteasome. "The proteasome is like a big molecular shredder which grinds up proteins that are no longer needed or which have become misfolded or abnormal", David Fushman explained. "It controls the cell life cycle, and we know that if it isn't functioning properly, it could lead to the development of cancers, or neurological diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or Huntington's, or problems with the immune response."

Kwaku Dayie, associate professor, and Vitali Tugarinov, assistant professor, both in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and members of CBSO, will also be key users of the new technology. Both have been leaders in the development of NMR methods that allow and facilitate studies of large macromolecules. Jonathan Dinman and Anne Simon, both professors of cell biology and molecular genetics and experts in the study of viruses, will also utilize the spectrometer to advance their research.

"The capabilities of this ultra high field/high frequency NMR will create unique opportunities for life sciences researchers in Maryland", stated Norma Allewell, vice president for research and professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland. "The extraordinary resolution of the results that can be generated with this new instrument will provide unparalleled insights into the structure, dynamics, and function of the proteins and nucleic acids that are critical to life, and that also play a role in many diseases for which effective treatments are still sought. The University of Maryland has recruited a team of NMR experts and users that are fully prepared to exploit the unique capabilities of this new resource to gain new insights into cellular function, to develop new approaches to treating some of society's most challenging diseases, and to work with the biotech community to translate these discoveries into new therapies."

David Fushman anticipated that the three partner institutions will develop research collaborations and build a community of scientists who share their research results through an ongoing seminar series. Earlier this year, the NCRR gave the University of Maryland School of Medicine $12,3 million to renovate cancer laboratories and to build core research facilities.


Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

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