Sharper Image

UAB’s new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility is the largest and most advanced in the state.

UAB’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility

By Dale Short

Seeing brighter and sharper images of inside the human body has long been a goal of researchers and physicians. X-rays were a major breakthrough, but more recently the science of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) was so revolutionary that it won two Nobel prizes for two different teams of scientists.

UAB’s new NMR facility is the largest and most advanced in the state. Its centerpiece is a Bruker BioSpin Avance III HD 850 MHz NMR spectrometer, equipped with a cryoprobe, a coil that’s cooled with a stream of very cold Helium gas to increase the probe’s sensitivity and reduce the level of thermal noise generated by the device’s components.

The NMR lab. “This puts UAB in the category of leading institutions that have this level of technology,” says N. Rama Krishna, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and director of the NMR facility. “This facility is a unique platform that merges both basic science and translational research — from structural biology of proteins to drug discovery, and NMR-metabolic profiling of biofluids to assess toxicity and physiological changes induced by drugs.”

Using technology that sprang from World War II radar designs, NMR devices use powerful magnets that target the hydrogen nuclei of proteins. The nuclei respond by producing signals that can be encoded by the machine and converted into data points of an image.

Big Lab On Campus

“The new facility has been intricately designed with power, HVAC, security, and vibration dampening capabilities,” Krishna says, “that make it one of the best designed NMR facilities in the U.S. The consolidation of the 19th Street and 14th Street NMR Cores into a central facility will allow for more efficient maintenance, scheduling and upkeep of the NMR systems, more economical usage of the cryogens involved, and the availability in one location of a critical mass of NMR scientists with expertise in mutually complementary areas to support the research projects of Cancer Center faculty members.”

And the facility redesign brings an aesthetic bonus as well, says Dr. David Graves, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “There’s a big ‘wow’ factor with this facility and its view of the beautiful Campus Green,” he says. “We included as many windows as possible, to show off the facility and illustrate our commitment to research excellence. We can do a lot more collaboratively than we can do separately, and this partnership among the Department of Chemistry, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, the School of Medicine, and the College of Arts and Sciences clearly reflects this synergy.”

“Drs. Rama Krishna and David Graves have built a world-class NMR facility at UAB,” says Tim Townes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. “The 850 MHz NMR spectrometer with cryoprobe is a state-of-the-art spectrometer that can define the structure and dynamic movements of proteins at the atomic level.

“The facility provides state-of-the-art sensitivity and resolution for biomedical research and drug discovery . . .” — N. Rama Krishna
While the facility will be helping researchers solve puzzles of proteins for years to come, bringing the pieces together in their interdisciplinary framework was a major puzzle of logistics in itself.

Early in 2009, when Krishna’s High End Instrumentation grant for a 800 MHz NMR system with a cryoprobe was funded by the National Institutes of Health-National Center for Research Resources, the size of the magnet outshone the size of the loading dock’s corridor at the 19th Street facility known as CH19. Installing the machine there would require major construction and renovation, with a price tag to match. Krishna and chemistry chair David Graves, Ph.D. conferred about the option of relocating the 19th street facility instruments and combining them with the Department of Chemistry’s NMR systems operating at 700 MHz, 400 MHz, and 300 MHz.

This Plan B would have required upgrading the magnet to a “compact shielded” version, as well as renovating parts of the Chemistry building. The plan was proposed to UAB leadership. What happened next was, as Krishna puts it, “serendipity.” Twice.

First, the manufacturer of the Bruker-Biospin machine announced a new compact shielded version of their Ascend 850, which is small enough to fit in a single story lab such as the Chemistry Building. Not long afterward, the National Cancer Institute announced a new competition for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) supplements to Cancer Center Support (CCSG) Grants, of the type that help support the Comprehensive Cancer Center, which would be aimed at consolidating Cancer Center Cores.

Krishna and Graves wrote and submitted an application for consolidating the NMR instruments to a Chemistry Building location. The grant was funded, work began on renovating the space, and the new facility was set to house all four NMR instruments.

The largest device will mainly support structural biology studies on high molecular weight proteins and their complexes, Krishna says, and the 700 model will continue to support structural biology in addition to cancer drug discovery projects. The 600 system is dedicated to studies of metabolomics—chemical processes involving metabolites, which have been described as “the chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind” — in addition to work on peptides, smaller proteins, complex carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. The 500 system will assist in heteronuclear observation, and the 400 and 300 systems will be used chiefly for synthetic chemistry research.

The NMR ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new NMR facility grand opening was held in November. It has been intricately designed with power, HVAC, security, and vibration dampening capabilities.Collaboration

“One aspect of the new installation that will multiply its impact is its collaborative nature,” says Edward Partridge, M.D., director of UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “This new facility is going to take biomedical research to the next level — not only with its state-of-the-art instrumentation, but most importantly, with the collaborative expertise of our researchers, who will better our understanding of disease and disease progression. UAB as a whole has long been recognized for its efforts in drug discovery and development. When it comes to cancer, this facility is going to play a pivotal role in creating therapeutic agents in the laboratory, helping us nurture it through the ‘research pipeline’ of tests, animal studies, and clinical trials before it’s ultimately brought to our patients.”

The installation’s name is as substantial as its equipment list: The Central Alabama High-Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility, which was derived from the title of Krishna’s successful High End Instrumentation grant funded by the NCRR. At 1,600 square feet and $3.5 million, the facility was created as a multidisciplinary partnership of the NIH-NCRR, UAB Health Services Foundation, National Cancer Institute, the offices of the vice president for Research and Economic Development and the deans of the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to director Krishna, the facility “provides state-of-the-art sensitivity and resolution for biomedical research and drug discovery” for a wide-ranging list of diseases including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, HIV-1, Parkinson’s disease, and others. It combines the new machines with existing instrumentation from the university’s chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular genetics departments.

“These precise measurements are essential to gain insights into the proteins that cause disorders as diverse as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular disease. Equally important, the state-of-the-art NMR facility further strengthens the Structural Biology Program at UAB and helps us attract outstanding students into our Graduate Biomedical Sciences Program.”
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

    While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    posted a while back 215 views
  • Events

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Homecoming to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted a while back 183 views
  • Building a Legacy

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    posted a while back 255 views
  • AEIVA Receives Significant Gift of Works by David Levinthal

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    posted a while back 222 views
  • A Legacy of Love

    Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    posted a while back 283 views
  • Capturing Success

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students.

    posted a while back 200 views
  • Blazing the Way

    The Blazing the Way Scholarship Match Initiative is designed to increase the number of scholarships awarded to students by offering an innovative strategy that matches donor investments.

    posted a while back 166 views
  • Paying it Forward

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

    posted a while back 365 views
  • They Persisted

    Despite complex social, cultural, and professional trends that keep women from academic careers in the sciences and mathematics, a small percentage of female research faculty stay the course.

    posted a while back 883 views
  • Taking a Leap

    Psychology and Public Administration alumna Ann Bridges Steely says her biggest career risks brought the greatest rewards.

    posted a while back 289 views
  • Stellar

    Physics alumna Christina Richey has built a successful career in the competitive, and mostly-male, field of planetary science.

    posted a while back 595 views
  • Across the Spectrum

    Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    posted a while back 1749 views
  • Everyone has a story

    “How did you end up in Alabama?” I get that question a lot, both here and abroad. I suspect that every immigrant is frequently asked the same question out of genuine curiosity, maybe interest.

    posted a while back 488 views
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.
    posted a while back 1290 views
  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    posted a while back 1195 views
  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    posted a while back 1373 views
  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    posted a while back 1745 views
  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

    This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

    posted a while back 2116 views
  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    posted a while back 2001 views
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    posted a while back 1597 views
  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    posted a while back 1758 views
  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    posted a while back 1405 views
  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    posted a while back 2311 views
  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    posted a while back 2747 views
  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    posted a while back 5498 views
  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    posted a while back 1619 views
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 3897 views
  • A Vibrant Fall Semester
    There was an explosion of creativity and celebration last fall with AEIVA and the Institute of Human Rights kickoff event at the Alys Stephens Center.
    posted a while back 3929 views
  • Senior Wins Gilman Scholarship
    Jane Murphy, a student in foreign languages with a concentration in French, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad.
    posted a while back 4300 views
  • Dean's Award Winners
    Congratulations to these deserving undergraduate and graduate students, who were nominated by their professors for this prestigious recognition.
    posted a while back 3548 views
  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    posted a while back 4997 views
  • Lamario Williams Wins Scholarship and Travel Award
    Physics major Lamario Williams received a PhysCon MSI/HBCU Travel Award to attend PhysCon 2016 in San Francisco.
    posted a while back 3686 views
  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Win Big at 2017 ADDY Awards
    Students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences make a strong showing at the ADDY Awards.
    posted a while back 4326 views
  • New Degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology and Genetics and Genomics Sciences
    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to offer new degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences.
    posted a while back 5314 views
  • Public Relations Certificate First in State
    Majors in public relations and other communication studies will now have the opportunity to boost their resumes with the addition of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.
    posted a while back 4192 views
  • Dr. David Schwebel Receives Multiple Honors
    Dr. David Schwebel, professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the sciences, receives multiple honors.
    posted a while back 4041 views
  • Dr. Christopher Lawson Named Chair of National Research Nonprofit
    Dr. Christopher Lawson, professor in the Department of Physics, has been elected board chair of a national nonprofit coalition.
    posted a while back 3807 views
  • Dr. Sarah Parcak Launches TED Wish, Receives Additional Recognition
    Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
    posted a while back 4157 views
Back to Top