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NIH Funds Nine Centers to Speed Application of High Tech Screening

The funding of a network of nine centers that will use high tech screening methods to identify small molecules for use as probes to investigate the diverse functions of cells was announced Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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The funding of a network of nine centers across the country that will use high tech screening methods to identify small molecules for use as probes to investigate the diverse functions of cells was announced Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The network — funded at approximately $70 million annually over the four-year production phase — is designed to increase the pace of development and use of chemical (small molecule) probes, which have become invaluable tools for exploring biologic processes and for developing new therapies for disease.
 
"This network marks a new era in academic and government research as NIH-funded scientists will have access to the tools for rapidly screening hundreds of thousands of small molecules against many novel biological assays at lower costs than previously possible," said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH director. "The information generated by this network will be important to developing a greater understanding of biology and its complexity, while hopefully discovering novel approaches to therapies and prevention, especially for rare or neglected diseases."
 
As genomics research reveals more about the enormous complexity of cell function, new approaches are needed to understand the details. Small molecule probes can be minutely targeted to interact with one site of a cell’s chemical machinery, thus providing information on a specific step in a cascade of cell functions. In some cases, small molecules may have activity that gives them potential for eventual therapeutic as well as research use; or, they may identify targets in the cell for the design of future therapies.
 
"Discoveries from genomics and proteomics have given us thousands of new proteins but little understanding of what many of them do in the cell," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., NIMH director.
 
This screening effort will identify small molecules that influence these newly discovered proteins, allowing us to understand how many of them function. And for proteins involved in disease states, today’s small molecule could be tomorrow’s medication."
 
The nine institutions funded as part of the network are:
 
Comprehensive Centers:
 
The Burnham Center for Chemical Genomics, La Jolla, Calif.; John Reed, Principal Investigator
 
Broad Institute Comprehensive Screening Center, Cambridge, Mass.; Stuart Schreiber, Principal Investigator
 
National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center, Bethesda, Md.; Christopher Austin, Principal Investigator
 
The Comprehensive Center for Chemical Probe Discovery and Optimization at Scripps, La Jolla, Calif.; Hugh Rosen, Principal Investigator
 
Specialized Screening Centers:
 
Johns Hopkins Ion Channel Center, Baltimore; Min Li, Principal Investigator
 
Southern Research Specialized Biocontainment Screening Center, Birmingham, Ala.; Colleen Jonsson, Principal Investigator
 
University of New Mexico Center for Molecular Discovery, Albuquerque, N.M.; Larry Sklar, Principal Investigator
 
Specialized Chemistry Centers:
 
University of Kansas Specialized Chemistry Center, Lawrence, Kan.; Jeffrey Aube, Principal Investigator
 
The Vanderbilt Specialized Chemistry Center for Accelerated Probe Development, Nashville, Tenn.; Craig Lindsley, Principal Investigator
 
Source: National Institutes of Health