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Vanderbilt Team Gets up to $16.5M to Develop Mass Spec Methods to Detect Toxic Agent Effects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Vanderbilt University said that it has been awarded a cooperative agreement for up to $16.5 million to develop mass spectrometry-based methods to determine the effect of toxic agents on human cells.

The award for up to five years is an agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office, and is one of three recently awarded through DARPA's Rapid Threat Assessment program. The other two awards went to the University of Colorado, Boulder, and George Washington University.

Richard Caprioli, a professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt and director of its Mass Spectrometry Research Center, leads Vanderbilt's work on the DARPA award, which is being carried out by three teams. Jeremy Norris, a research assistant professor of biochemistry, who also serves as project manager, and John McLean, an associate professor of chemistry, are leading the analytics team.

The biology team is led by Eric Skaar, a professor of pathology at the university, while the cell automation team is led by John Wikswo, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education. According to Caprioli, this team will develop ways of quickly freezing cells that have been exposed to toxic agents — "in 50 milliseconds in some experiments," he said.

"We’re going to grow human cells on slides … and they’re going to be exposed to the toxins and will be analyzed using our scanning, laser-based mass spectrometry technologies … to get a very rapid assessment of what’s going on in those cells at the molecular level," Caprioli said.

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