New type of NIH lab to study global health issues

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The Living Lab Structural Biology Center was formed through a cooperative research and development agreement between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Md., and FEI, in Hillsboro, Ore., a scientific instruments company, to help accelerate medical discoveries relating to global health challenges, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. The lab will utilize near-atomic resolution microscopy and other structural biology technologies.

The lab, which will be located on the NIH campus, is an interdisciplinary collaboration among experts from FEI and scientists from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)—both part of the NIH—in the fields of cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear MR spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction and biochemistry. A Titan Krios transmission electron microscope will be located at NIH to enable the collaborative research.

The collaboration involves the development of methods and workflows, from sample preparation through data analysis, that combine information from all of the technologies in the Living Lab. Scientists have historically relied on nuclear MR and x-ray diffraction techniques to determine the structures of molecular complexes and proteins that play a role in the causes of various diseases, such as AIDS, diabetes and cancer. Although structural information about a variety of proteins and drugs has been obtained by these methods, they have limitations that put some of the critical biological answers out of reach, according to the NIH. Cryo-electron microscopy is a complementary analytical technique that provides near-atomic resolution without requirements for crystallization or limits on molecular size and complexity imposed by the other techniques.