CINCINNATI—Researchers in the molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology department at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine have received $358,323 in federal stimulus funds to upgrade a high-powered spectrometer used in structural biology research.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant will be used to replace the console for one of the department’s five nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers, which have been in use since 1996. The machines, which consist of a large magnet and an electronic console, allow scientists to determine the three-dimensional structure of molecules and obtain detailed structural pictures of complex proteins.
The grant, part of the NIH’s Shared Instrumentation Grant Program (S 10), was facilitated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, an economic stimulus package enacted in February 2009. It’s the first S10 grant UC has received through the ARRA, and brings UC’s ARRA funding for 2010 past the $20 million mark. Total ARRA research funding to UC has topped $30 million.
“We really needed to find a way to upgrade the spectrometers, and the NIH program is one of the major ways of being able to do that,” says Mark Rance, PhD, a professor in the molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology department.
“What we can accomplish is strongly limited by the hardware,” Rance adds, “so staying at the cutting edge of the hardware allows us to stay at the cutting edge of the research.”
NMR spectroscopy is the principal tool for several areas of research within the department, including Rance’s investigation of the internal dynamics of biomolecular systems.
“Protein dynamics—how one protein recognizes another, for example— is a very important aspect of how proteins work,” he says. “NMR is one of the best tools for looking at dynamics. In X-ray pictures you see a static structure, but you don’t see the dynamics going on.”
Other researchers in the department and their collaborators are looking at such areas as proteins related to cardiac disease and muscular development; nuclear receptors, which play an important role in cancer research; and biofilms, which are specialized communities of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics and immune responses.
“Once you understand how these things function, you can work toward developing new or better drugs to help with treatments,” says Rance.
Adds Sandra Degen, PhD, vice president for research at UC, “With the current state of the economy, it is very difficult for our researchers to obtain the equipment they need to remain at the cutting edge. This funding from the NIH through the economic stimulus program allows us to upgrade our equipment so that we can continue important work with NMR spectrography.”
Rance expects the new console to be in place within three months. In the meantime, he says, “We still need to work hard to identify additional funding to keep the rest of our facility at the state of the art.”