June 28, 2017

Aller recognized for cryo-EM research by NIH

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allerStephen Aller, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, has been recently recognized for integrating leading-edge technology, “cryo-EM” into his research on membrane protein structure, by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins at the most recent senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing discussing the FY18 NIH budget.

Cryo-EM (cryo-electron microscopy) has advanced substantially in the past few years and is being used increasingly more by structural biologists in their research. The technique allows scientists to image hundreds of thousands of individual protein molecules and reconstruct a high-resolution (atomic) structure without needing to crystalize the proteins.  Cryo-EM promises to revolutionize membrane protein structure determination specifically since these types of proteins are exceedingly difficult to crystallize.  Within the past five years, the technology has truly broken the atomic resolution barrier for many proteins including membrane proteins, producing crisp 3D structures. Cryo-EM is being used to greatly accelerate the development of drugs that could cure diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis and Stargardt disease, for example.

“UAB is working hard to acquire this technology,” Aller said. “Having cryo-EM capability in our hands would greatly impact, if not totally revolutionize, research at UAB on a university-wide scale.”

Advancements in research like Aller’s work with cryo-EM are only possible with funding from the NIH.

“Federal funding is so critical. We are not going to be able to cure diseases like cancer or develop the next generation of anti-cancer drugs with only private funding,” said Aller. “Certain types of federal funding allow scientists to take more risks, and recognition by the NIH will help UAB Administrators understand the significance of what we are trying to accomplish.”

It is becoming increasingly harder for scientists to be allotted multiple grants throughout his/her career, with only an average of roughly one in ten investigators currently receiving funding.

To view Aller’s recognition by the NIH click here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4674775/cpan