November 22, 2013

New nuclear magnetic imaging will propel drug development

Written by
The University of Alabama at Birmingham unveiled today the new 1,600-square-foot Central Alabama High-Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility, which provides state-of-the-art sensitivity and resolution for biomedical research and drug discovery for treatment of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, HIV-1, Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes, among others.

The NMR facility technology is also available to researchers outside the UAB campus, including out-of-state investigators and those in industry.

The $3.5 million project is the result of a partnership between the National Center for Research Resources, National Cancer Institute, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences, and the UAB Health Services Foundation, the UAB physician practice group. The facility is housed in a newly renovated laboratory in UAB’s Chemistry Building.

The facility combines existing instrumentation from UAB’s chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular genetics departments with the facility’s centerpiece: a new Bruker BioSpin HD 850 MHz NMR spectrometer equipped with a cryoprobe. The facility also includes the Avance II 700 MHz and the Avance III HD 600 MHz, all with cryoprobes, as well as the Avance III HD 500 MHz NMR systems.  

“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,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This new NMR facility will be transformational — not only for Alabama, but for the world,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the UAB School of Medicine. “This will only accelerate our drug discovery process.”

“UAB as a whole has long been recognized for its efforts in drug discovery and development,” Partridge said. “When it comes to cancer, this facility is going play a pivotal role in creating therapeutic agents in the laboratory, helping us nurture cancer drugs through the ‘research pipeline’ before they are ultimately brought to our patients.”

N. Rama Krishna, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and the director of the NMR facility, was essential in helping secure major grant funding for the project.

“This facility is a unique platform that merges both basic science and translational research — from structural biology of proteins to drug discovery, to NMR-metabolic profiling of biofluids to assess toxicity and physiological changes induced by drugs,” Krishna said.  

The centerpiece 850 MHz NMR allows scientists to determine the three-dimensional structures of larger proteins or other biomolecular targets and their complexes with proteins, peptides or drugs. This information is critical for research efforts of new drugs. Once research samples are run, investigators can access the data remotely by computer for faster and more efficient research.   

“Dr. Rama Krishna and Dr. David Graves have built a world-class NMR facility at UAB that includes four outstanding machines,” said Tim Townes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. “The 850 MHz NMR can define the structure and dynamic movements of proteins at the molecular level. These precise measurements are essential to our gaining insights into the proteins that cause diseases and disorders. Equally important, this NMR facility further strengthens the Structural Biology Program at UAB and helps us attract outstanding students into our Graduate Biomedical Sciences program.”

“There is a big wow factor with this facility with a view of the beautiful UAB Campus green,” said David Graves, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry. “We put in 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.”