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$1.2M for Biomed Research

The University of Georgia received two grants for instrumentation to advance the capabilities of its biomedical researchers.

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Athens, Ga. - The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of Georgia two grants totaling $1.2 million for instrumentation to advance chemical analytical capabilities of biomedical researchers across campus. The new equipment will allow researchers to accurately measure, characterize and test individual molecules, advancing researchers' understanding of human diseases, ranging from insect vectors of infectious diseases to discovery of cancer biomarkers.

UGA received a highly competitive High-End Instrumentation award in the amount of $832,030 to purchase a Thermo Fisher Orbitrap Elite mass spectrometer. The new instrument will be used principally for the study of the structures and functions of proteins.

The powerful new equipment, to be housed in the Proteomic and Mass Spectrometry facility in the university's chemistry building and staffed by a dedicated scientist, will be shared by more than 25 researchers. It also will be available to researchers from neighboring academic institutions and industries.

The PAMS core facility was established in 2006, when the instrumentation from the proteomics facility in the Edgar L. Rhodes Center for Animal and Dairy Science was relocated to the chemical and biological sciences mass spectrometry facility. Its five existing mass spectrometers are used for various chemical analyses, using a technique known as protein mass fingerprinting to identify proteins. However, the present instrumentation lacks the capability to look at amino acid sequence and modification.

For projects requiring greater specificity, UGA researchers currently must send samples to other institutions for analysis or collaborate with researchers who have liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry instruments in their labs.

"Having a facility on campus so that researchers can walk just a few minutes from their lab to talk to the person who's running their sample, and then be able to look at results and decide what they ought to do differently-that will make a tremendous difference," said Jon Amster, principal investigator on the NIH High-End Instrumentation grant and head of UGA's chemistry department.

"We're going to be getting the next generation instrument, which is vastly better-much more sensitive. This kind of resource is indispensable," said Edward Kipreos, professor of cellular biology. Kipreos' research uses mass spectrometry to determine protein substrates as they relate to the cell cycle, with possible applications in cancer research.

NIH also awarded UGA a $363,700 grant for a new electronics console for the 800 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer housed in the Fred C. Davison Life Sciences Complex. The more reliable console will further research in protein chemistry, cellular communication, medical imaging and other areas.

Like mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy gives researchers insight into the physical and chemical properties of samples. While mass spectrometers sort molecules based on the ratio of their mass to their ionic charge, NMR spectrometers call upon their magnetic properties.

"Not only is it replacing an existing instrument, but its capabilities are significantly enhanced," said Jeffrey Urbauer, associate professor of chemistry and principal investigator on the grant.

Urbauer's research group uses the 800 MHz NMR to examine the structure and stability of protein molecules. He is particularly interested in studying the estrogen receptor, the primary chemotherapeutic target for breast cancer.

"This works by leapfrogging. A campus will win one of these awards, set up a first-rate, world-leading instrumentation facility and everybody from around the country, and especially the region, will end up using it," said Robert Scott, associate vice president for research. "These awards are a major leap forward for UGA."

Sharing of instrumentation across campus-and between the university and other institutions-falls in step with recommendations on university budget trimming anticipated in a report later this year from the National Academy of Sciences.

For more information on these grant awards, see the website for the UGA Office of the Vice President for Research at http://www.ovpr.uga.edu/.