UC Santa Cruz biomedical research facility wins $2 million NIH grant

Glenn Millhauser in NMR Facility
Biochemist Glenn Millhauser stands next to one of the instruments in the UC Santa Cruz NMR Facility. A new $2.5 million NMR spectrometer will soon be installed in the facility, greatly accelerating research on complex molecules involved in human health and disease. (Photo by T. Stephens)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $2 million to UC Santa Cruz for a powerful new instrument used by chemists and biochemists to explore the structures and functions of complex molecules involved in human health and disease.

The grant from NIH's High End Instrumentation program funds the acquisition of a new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer for the UC Santa Cruz NMR Facility. With much higher magnetic field and sensitivity than the facility's other spectrometers, the new instrument is crucial for the elucidation of the structures of complex biomolecules, said Ilan Benjamin, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

Six UC Santa Cruz faculty scientists make extensive use of NMR spectroscopy in their NIH-funded research projects. Work in these labs addresses issues related to cancer biology, neurodegenerative diseases, drug development, infectious diseases, and the molecular machinery of circadian rhythms.

Strong user base

"We have a remarkably strong user base, and I think part of the appeal of our proposal was the wide range of important, health-related applications that critically depend on high-end NMR spectroscopy," said Glenn Millhauser, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and principal investigator for the proposal. In addition, the NMR Facility recently hired a new manager, Jack Lee, Ph.D., through a national search, providing excellent support for the new instrument.

Millhauser said the NIH High End Instrumentation grants are offered nationwide every other year and are very competitive. "I'm beyond thrilled," he said. "This grant speaks to the visibility and importance of the research in NMR structural biology at UC Santa Cruz."

Based on the same principles as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), NMR spectroscopy is a powerful technique for analyzing molecular structures and identifying chemical compounds. The UC Santa Cruz NMR facility currently houses two older instruments and one modern 600 MHz NMR spectrometer that now runs at near full capacity. The NIH grant allows the purchase of a new, more powerful 800 MHz NMR spectrometer that will complement the existing instruments.

"Really high-end instruments like this are rare and often limited to regional facilities, and in the past we have had to travel to other institutions to use them," Millhauser said. "That's a serious problem if you have samples that aren't stable, or if you want to make adjustments to your samples and examine the responses. There are a lot of things you can't do if you have to travel to a regional facility, so this new spectrometer will greatly accelerate our research."

In addition to the $2 million NIH grant, significant contributions to cover the total cost of the spectrometer (about $2.5 million) were provided by the Office of Research, Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.