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National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NCRR Office of Communications

NIH Funds Two New Centers to Develop Innovative Imaging Technology for Neurodegenerative Disorders and Advanced Software for Protein Analysis

The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced today it will provide up to an estimated $11 million over the next five years to create two new Biomedical Technology Research Centers (BTRCs) that will provide researchers nationwide with access to specialized research tools, training and state-of-the-art equipment. One center will develop innovative imaging techniques designed specifically to better diagnose and treat diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, where the nervous system progressively deteriorates. A second center will create cutting-edge software for identifying and analyzing sets of interacting proteins that are important in a wide range of diseases, such as cancer.

Each center creates critical and often unique technology to apply to a broad range of basic, clinical, and translational research. Serving as test beds for solving complex biomedical research problems, BTRC research projects combine the expertise of multidisciplinary technical and biomedical experts both within the center and through collaborative partnerships. These efforts result in innovative solutions to today’s health challenges, which are then actively disseminated to promote rapid adoption and achieve the broadest possible impact.

"At these centers, researchers nationwide can gain access to advanced instrumentation, software, and support for a wide range of biomedical research problems," said NCRR Director Barbara Alving, M.D. "Through unique collaborations with physical, computational, and biological scientists, engineers, and clinical investigators, researchers at these centers are collectively advancing technology and its application to disease."

The new centers are being established at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education Inc. in San Francisco and at the University of California, San Diego.

The Northern California Institute for Research and Education Inc. in San Francisco will receive a five-year award up to an estimated $6.04 million to develop a center for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of neurodegenerative disorders. This BTRC will develop innovative and improved MRI techniques for clinicians to better understand, detect, diagnose, and treat diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A vital new resource for a rapidly aging population, the new center represents a continued collaborative effort among MRI physicists, computer scientists, and clinical investigators to provide the scientific community with a centralized source for the latest imaging tools, service, and training focused solely on neurodegenerative diseases.

The advanced techniques developed at the new center will offer researchers and clinicians improved image clarity, more reliable and precise methods for capturing anatomical data, more efficient and accurate reconstruction methods, and improved image processing capabilities.

Through a second BTRC award to the University of California, San Diego, totaling up to an estimated $4.94 million over five years, NCRR will support a new center for computational mass spectrometry that will serve as an international resource in proteomics, enabling more research activities, investigation into unexplored areas of computational proteomics, and support of collaborative research efforts. The goal of a proteomics experiment is often to identify thousands of proteins present in a complex biological sample, and detect differences in the amounts or structures of these proteins when samples are compared (e.g., a tumor vs. normal tissue). Looking at these differences and how they relate to one another can help shed light on the causes or progression of a disease and how drugs might be able to treat the disease.

The complex data generated in these experiments require sophisticated computational tools for interpretation. These tools have lagged behind the rapid evolution of new analytical technologies for proteomics. This new center will bring creative mathematical approaches to mass spectrometry and will build a new generation of reliable open-access software tools that will catalyze exchange and collaboration among experimental and computational researchers in proteomics, furthering advances in this critical field of research. The center will also focus on training the scientific community in the use of the technologies it develops.

These new awards increase the number of BTRCs to 52 unique national resources. They are organized into five broad technology areas: imaging, informatics, optical and laser technology, technology for structural biology, and technology for systems biology. Researchers nationwide can access a broad range of support and services at these centers. Potential interactions include long-term collaboration, routine analysis, and consultation. They also provide hands-on laboratory training, short courses, workshops, and online resources.

To learn more about the two new BTRC awardees, visit www.ncrr.nih.gov/btrr/2008. For more information about the BTRC program, visit www.ncrr.nih.gov/btrr.

The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of NIH, provides laboratory scientists and clinical researchers with the resources and training they need to understand, detect, treat, and prevent a wide range of diseases. NCRR supports all aspects of translational and clinical research, connecting researchers, patients, and communities across the nation. For more information, visit www.ncrr.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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