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University of Maryland School of Medicine receives $7.9 million grant for 'super' research magnet

The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a $7.9 million federal grant to acquire a superconducting 950 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) magnet that will help researchers unravel the mysteries of molecules and develop new agents to treat cancer, AIDS and other diseases. The grant is among the largest of its kind ever awarded by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The funds were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The proposal to acquire the two-story spectrometer (with the super magnet) was a partnership between the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and two other University of Maryland campuses the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UM). The instrument will be shared equally among the three campuses.

The University of Maryland will be the only academic institution in the United States and one of only two sites in the country to have a 950 MHz NMR spectrometer once it is installed in November of 2011.

David J. Weber, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the NMR core facility at UMB, is a co-director of the grant, along with Michael F. Summers, Ph.D., of UMBC, and David Fushman, Ph.D., of UM.

The eight-ton magnet produces a supercharged magnetic field that enables scientists to investigate the three-dimensional structure of biological molecules and study their interaction with the highest degree of resolution.

"NMR spectroscopy plays a critical role in many areas of cancer research, and having a 950 MHz NMR spectrometer on our campus is a phenomenal resource for researchers at our cancer center. It will greatly enhance and speed our efforts to uncover new information about cancer and design new drugs to treat it," says Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, and professor of medicine and director of the Program in Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"We will be the only academic facility in the country to have this powerful magnet," says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "This technology is a testament to our status as a world-class research institution. The magnet will be a critical tool in our mission to use the latest in cutting-edge technologies in our labs to bring lifesaving new treatments to patients in the clinic."

The 22.3 Tesla magnet is so powerful that it could lift 50 cars. The equipment will be housed in the UMB NMR core facility, located at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and will be used by researchers from all three campuses as well as from institutions throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

The instrument initially will have 35 users including 10 major core users and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Dr. Weber.

"Being able to observe molecules at the atomic-level eliminates a great deal of guessing when you're conducting complicated molecular experiments. We will have a much better ability to look at larger molecules and protein complexes with this powerful magnet it's like working in a room with the lights turned on," Dr. Weber says.

Dr. Weber's laboratory is developing small-molecule inhibitors geared to a family of calcium-binding proteins called S100 proteins, including one that currently is being tested in a clinical study at the cancer center as a possible treatment for melanoma. Other cancer center researchers are studying ways to help repair the DNA in cells that have been damaged by cancer.


Contact: Karen E. Warmkessel
University of Maryland Medical Center

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