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August 16, 2010

UMBC and Partners Receive $7.9 Million NIH Grant for Powerful NMR Spectrometer

Anthony Lane
Communications Manager
Science, Technology and Environment
(410) 455-5793

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), 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, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The funds were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The instrument, which is scheduled for installation in November 2011 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, will be shared equally among the three campuses. It is on track to become the second such instrument in the United States, and the first to be installed at an academic institution.

Michael F. Summers, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMBC and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is a co-director of the grant, along with UMCP’s David Fushman, and David J. Weber, a professor at UMB and director of the NMR core facility at UMB.

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.

Summers said the instrument should provide important new clues as his lab continues mapping the internal structure of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"Over the past several years we have been pushing the limits of our existing NMR facilities in our studies of the molecular interactions that occur when HIV molecules assemble in infected cells, “ Summers said. “The 950 MHz NMR instrument will allow us to visualize the interactions that occur during the earliest stages of assembly, when the protein molecules are first beginning to bind and organize themselves on the virus's RNA genetic material."

The 22.3 Tesla magnet is so powerful that it could lift 50 cars. It will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to UMB’s David Weber.

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 University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center as a possible treatment for melanoma. Other cancer center researchers are studying ways to help repair the DNA in cells that have been damaged by cancer.

University of Maryland researchers will use the instrument to delve deeper into the molecular mechanisms of proteins and nucleic acids in the body and to provide the much needed fundamental information from which drug therapies and other medical treatments can be based.

Geoffrey Summers, UMBC’s vice president for research, said the 950 MHz NMR spectrometer will be a vital tool as Michael Summers and other University of Maryland researchers work to find new ways of treating AIDS and other diseases.

"A decade and a half ago, when UMBC became the first public university in Maryland to have a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator on its faculty, we acquired the first 800 MHz NMR instrument in the U.S.,” Summers said.

He noted that UMBC is now part of a consortium that will own one of only two 950 MHz instruments in the country.

“This instrument will enable UMBC to remain at the cutting edge of structural biochemistry research in the world,” Summers said. “We are very excited at this development."

Posted by alane at August 16, 2010 3:12 PM