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Posted 11.05.06


Researcher Receives NIH Grant for Purchase of NMR Spectrometer

Additional breakthroughs expected following NIH grant for purchase of new NMR spectrometer

COLUMBIA, MO - This radio-like device does more than tune into talk radio and play today's Top 40 hits. The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer helps researchers in Missouri and nationwide unravel submicroscopic mysteries surrounding health and disease.

Steven Van Doren, associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Missouri-Columbia, uses NMR technology to better understand the structure and movement of proteins, particularly those that contribute to cancer, emphysema, aneurysms and atherosclerosis, which cause heart attacks and strokes. The information, he said, can be used for pharmaceutical development. Van Doren's research team in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) also uses the technology to study proteins that plants use to fight infections.

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The NMR spectrometer works like a radio, using MHz frequencies and an antenna to transmit and receive signals. However, it is more powerful than a radio, much larger in size and consists of several components; the most important is a superconducting magnet, which stands about 10 feet tall. A pencil-sized test tube, containing the research sample, is inserted at the top of the large magnet. Radio waves stimulate the molecules inside the test tube, transmitting radio waves back to the machine that are converted into detailed images representing the protein molecules. The images are displayed on a computer monitor.

Van Doren's NMR research has resulted in breakthroughs regarding TIMP, a protein that fosters the progression of cancer and arthritis. It suppresses cancer and arthritis by fighting the formation of new blood vessels. TIMP proteins are now being engineered to enhance their therapeutic potential.

"When you understand the molecular basis of life and disease, you better understand how to interfere with processes that lead to disease," Van Doren said.

He expects additional research breakthroughs when MU acquires a new and more powerful spectrometer. The University has received $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health for the device. It will be shared by researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Washington University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Currently, MU has four spectrometers, which operate at frequencies of 250, 300, 500 and 600 MHz; however, Van Doren said the newest, at 800 MHz, will far outperform the others. Washington University and UMKC also have spectrometers, but they too operate at lower frequencies, he said.

MU's newest device - requiring a year for delivery and assembly - will be Missouri's largest and most powerful. The superconducting magnet will stand nearly 12 feet tall, weighing almost 8,000 pounds.

"The performance goes up exponentially with the number of MHz," Van Doren said. "We'll be able to study much larger assemblies of these molecules of life and tackle much more challenging problems of greater medical, agriculture and biotechnology interest. For my own research, I think this is going to provide new insights into the assemblies of proteins that are important in inflammatory diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and arthritis. For researchers whose work is closely related to infectious diseases, they'll have much better project results."



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