11 Jul UW-Madison awarded $20 million grant for protein research
Madison, Wis. – University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers announced Wednesday they have received a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research on protein structure.
The grant is part of a $300 million fund for the Protein Structure Initiative, a program initiated by the NIH in 2000 to develop techniques and tools for discovering protein structures. UW-Madison’s Center for Eukaryotic Structural Genomics is one of ten research centers involved in the project, which is currently entering Phase II.
Brian Fox, a professor of biochemistry at UW-Madison and one of the group’s principal investigators, said the grant will be used over the next five years to support the center’s research group of 30 scientists. They will be using this second wave of funding to practice their technologies and locate more opportunities for testing.
The grant will also be used to fund partnerships with biotech companies and researchers in Madison. Fox said the center is working with the well-known researcher Jamie Thomson to study the proteins in human stem cells. They are also partnering with Promega, Bruker AXS and Cell-Free Sciences on technology evaluation projects.
Robert Bulleit, director of cellular analysis and proteomics R&D at Promega, said the company has supported the PSI since September with FlexiVector, a system to transfer protein-coding regions between different vectors. Bulleit said PSI has used the system to move large groups of genes, testing and incorporating it with other technologies.
Bulleit said the relationship works for both companies, since PSI gets its research and Promega can further establish its system. “One of our goals is to get our technologies used throughout the industry, and by getting it in the hands of these researchers makes it easier to get it established in the market,” Bulleit said.
UW-Madison will be also be working closely with the NIH and the other nine stations to avoid duplication of research. Fox said over the next five years NIH representatives will be making regular visits to the university to receive updates.
“This type of grant is a cooperative agreement,” Fox said. “I think what the NIH really wants is to use the number of centers they’ve funded to do as much work as possible.”
In the first phase of the PSI researchers were trying to find methods for mapping the 3-D protein structures, which determines their function in an organism. This information can be used to develop new drugs or uncover treatments for serious diseases, as well as drive further genomic research.
“It’s quite a complicated machine [and] there’s a lot of interconnected issues,” Fox said, adding to develop these maps the team has worked with gene cloning, purifying and crystallizing proteins and using nuclear magnetic resonance and x-ray crystallography to determine structures.
The center will be building off this experience in Phase II, which is focused on using the Phase I methods to quickly map thousands of protein structures. UW-Madison will analyze hundreds of protein structures from a variety of sources such as humans, mice, rats and algae.
All the data used by the PSI will be submitted to a Protein Data Bank established by the NIH, which holds the three-dimensional data from all research centers. This information is readily available online to researchers, helping them understand protein functions and predict unknown structures.
“This is the real benefit – it well help us determine the structure of proteins that are responsible for all the reactions in living organisms and hopefully help us alleviate disease, produce useful natural products, and improve the environment ,” Fox said.