UAB unveils state’s largest, most advanced nuclear magnetic resonance facility

UAB marks the grand opening of Alabama’s largest nuclear magnetic resonance facility.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham unveiled the state’s largest and most advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facility this morning at a grand-opening event and tour. The laboratory is another world-class example of the interdisciplinary emphasis that is a hallmark of UAB, accelerating the university’s reputation as a leader in medical research.

The new 1,600-square-foot Central Alabama High-Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility is housed in a newly renovated laboratory in the Department of Chemistry. The approximately $3.5 million project is the result of a partnership between the National Center for Research Resources, National Cancer Institute, UAB Health Services Foundation, and the offices of the vice president for Research and Economic Development and the deans of the School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences. The facility 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 facility combines existing instrumentation from UAB’s chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular genetics departments with the facility’s centerpiece, a new Bruker BioSpin Avance III 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. “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 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 is 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 puts UAB in the category of leading institutions that have this kind technology,” Krishna said. “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.”

The centerpiece 850 MHz NMR represents the highest field NMR instrument in the state and one of the largest in the Southeast. It 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.

“Drs. Rama Krishna and 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 spectrometer with cryoprobe is a state-of-the-art spectrometer that can define the structure and dynamic movements of proteins at the molecular level. 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, this state-of-the-art NMR facility further strengthens the Structural Biology Program at UAB and helps us in attracting outstanding students into our Graduate Biomedical Sciences Program.”

The facility on the first floor is also getting high marks for its aesthetics, since most NMR machines are housed in basements due to the weight of the magnets. The 850 MHz magnet alone weighs 3.85 tons.

“There is a big wow factor with this facility with a view of the beautiful 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.”