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ASU Wins $7.7M NIGMS Grant for Protein Structure Initiative

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Arizona State University has won a five-year, $7.7 million grant from the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences toward establishing a new center to study the structure of membrane proteins that protect against infectious diseases.

ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be home to the new ASU Center for Membrane Proteins and Infectious Diseases, one of nine new national centers focused on examining the structure, dynamics, and function of membrane proteins.

The nine centers are being created as part of the NIGMS-funded Protein Structure Initiative: Biology, aimed at testing whether organized networks of investigators involved in protein structure determination can be used to study a wide range of problems. The ASU center is the only one of the nine focused on the study of membrane proteins in terms of their interaction with viruses and bacteria.

According to ASU, the research is intended to enable the development of new drugs that block the pathways used by viruses or bacteria to enter cells, then catch and neutralize the pathogens before they have a chance to cause disease.

"While more than 60,000 structures of soluble proteins have been solved only 250 membrane protein structures have been determined to date. The reason why membrane proteins are so intransigent is that they 'live' in biological membranes, and so are not soluble in water. This makes them extremely difficult to isolate, purify and, in particular, to crystallize," MPID Director Petra Fromme, a professor in chemistry and biochemistry, said in a statement.

According to ASU, the new MPID center will feature an interdisciplinary team that includes faculty from the university's department of chemistry and biochemistry, School of Life Sciences, department of physics and the Biodesign Institute. Martin Caffrey of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, a researcher who has focused on membrane protein, will work with the center. Joshua LaBaer, director for the ASU Biodesign Institute's personalized diagnostics program and Virginia G. Piper Chair in Personalized Medicine, also will be involved in the collaboration.

The Biodesign Institute also has a plasmid repository within its Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology that the university said will play an important role in the membrane protein research.

In addition to the ASU center, NIGMS awarded funds to the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla Calif.; Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass.; University of California – San Francisco; University of Wisconsin, Madison; New York Structural Biology Center, New York City; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; Hauptman Woodward Medical Institute, Buffalo, NY; and Washington University in St. Louis.

In addition to the centers for membrane protein structure determination, PSI: Biology is also funding centers for high-throughput structure determination, consortia for high-throughput-enabled structural biology partnerships, a structural genomics knowledgebase, and a materials repository. The repository is intended to collect, validate, store, and distribute the expression and sequence clones that are generated in the PSI:Biology centers, and make the materials available to the community of biomedical researchers.

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