Nearly $1 million NIH grant increases biomedical, basic science research capabilities

One of the ways scientists reduce costs while staying ahead of the curve in their respective research programs is the University of Arizona’s shared, state-of-the-art research infrastructure. Called “core facilities,” they make available the very latest in specific expertise and technology to UA scientists, and in some cases, academic and industry scientists statewide, nationally and internationally.

A $916,000 grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) has expanded the capacity of one of those core facilities—the Arizona Proteomics Consortium—by funding a new mass spectrometer, the LTQ Velos Orbitrap LC-MC/MS system and Advion Nanomate source. The NCRR, part of the National Institutes of Health, provides laboratory scientists and clinical researchers with the tools and training they need to understand, detect, treat and prevent a wide range of diseases.

BIO5 member George Tsaprailis, PhD, a research scientist at the UA College of Pharmacy, is the consortium’s director.

“This NCRR shared instrument grant was supported by nine scientists here at the UA who will benefit from the capabilities of this new mass spectrometer,” says Tsaprailis, the  primary investigator on the grant application. “These scientists are interested in developing Valley Fever vaccines, detecting pathogens that can be used for biological terrorism, discovering proteins modified as a result of cardiovascular stress, proteins related to melanoma and prostate cancer, as well as increasing our basic knowledge of how proteins interact with other proteins.”

To fully realize the potential of advances in genomics, the proteins encoded by the approximately 35,000 genes found in the human genome must be understood. Proteomics is the study of the nature and quantity of proteins and how they behave and interact in diseased and healthy cells. Proteins play many roles, organizing life itself, forming bone and muscle, controlling metabolism and fighting infections. The package of proteins encoded in an organism’s genome constitutes its proteome.

The basic units of proteins (amino acids) are tiny, only 10 to 27 atoms—too small for any microscope. There are 20 basic amino acids, which are assembled together into peptides. Peptides connected together make up the protein structure. The key to proteomics is to obtain mass, or structural, information at the peptide level and, in recent years, at the whole protein level as well.

Mass spectrometers are sophisticated “weight scales” that measure with very high precision the mass of amino acids, peptides and proteins. They also have the ability to break peptides and proteins down to the amino acid level and weigh out these fragments. The weights of these fragments provide the peptide sequence. Figuring out these peptide sequences allows scientists to map them to a protein's structure and determine a protein's identity.

The UA formed the consortium in 2006 with a coalition of several older proteomics units. Work in proteomics began in 1998 in the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the College of Pharmacy. It expanded to include the Arizona Cancer Center in 2001. In 2003 a new lab at BIO5 was launched with support of the Arizona Research Laboratories and the UA chemistry department. All of those units eventually joined to form the new consortium.

“The UA community has been very supportive of our campus-wide proteomics initiatives over the years, underscoring the tremendous opportunity to improve health at the protein level,” Tsaprailis says.

The Arizona Proteomics Consortium is also the mass spectrometry and proteomics core for the Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of California Irvine.

More about UA’s life sciences core facilities
A variety of UA colleges and units collaborate to create and support core facilities that serve UA faculty and staff, and in many cases, academic and industry scientists across the state and around the world. They include:

The Biotechnology Computing Facility works with life sciences researchers to include computational methods and techniques at various stages of the discovery process, with the primary aim of simplifying and automating these processes through innovation, education and training.

Biological Magnetic Resonance Facility
This core service provides access to Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

The Cytometry Core Facility offers high-end instrumentation that allows scientists to analyze and sort cells by differences in physiology, metabolism, morphology and other characteristics.

The UA Genetics Core provides a wide range of molecular biology services and instruction in current molecular genetic methods. Services include SNP Analysis, DNA Sequencing, Microsatellite DNA Typing and a host of other genomic services.

Infectious Diseases
The Infectious Disease Research Core designs, develops, validates, implements and performs evidence-based assessments of new laboratory methods with the goal of diagnosing, treating and preventing infectious disease and public health threats.

Ligand Discovery
The Ligand Discovery Lab is a complex synthetic chemistry and screening facility supporting researchers with substances, libraries and screenings needed for research and education.

The BIO5 Media Facility offers consistently high-quality research materials, including microbiological media and buffers, plant tissue culture media, custom mammalian cell culture media and custom preparations tailored to the specific research needs of each researcher.

Mouse Models
The Genetically Engineered Mouse Models Core services include: designing, producing, genotyping, re-deriving, importing, and cryopreserving genetically modified mice. The core also provides consultation, guidance, and information on the design and use of genetically modified transgenic and gene targeted mice.

The Arizona Proteomics Consortium offers the largest and most mature proteomic service in the state. Proteomics research staff members assist investigators with systematic analysis of proteins for identification, quantification and functionality. They use state-of-the-art mass spectrometric measurements coupled with innovative bioanalytical techniques and bioinformatic tools.

Spectroscopy and Imaging Facilities
The University Spectroscopy and Imaging Facilities offer electron microscopy, confocal microscopy and X-ray diffraction core services.

The Statistics Consulting Laboratory (StatLab) offers statistical expertise, personnel and computing resources to 1) facilitate study design and conduct, data acquisition protocols, data analysis and the preparation of grants and manuscripts, 2) adapt and develop new statistical methods to address emerging problems in science and medicine, 3) raise the level of statistical practice through seminars, workshops and short courses, and 4) foster discovery translation and economic development by consulting with public and private organizations.

Research Means Hope

Funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has enabled BIO5 researchers at the UA to make great strides in understanding cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), osteoporosis, asthma, infectious diseases, age-related macular degeneration and many other diseases. NIH medical research funding helps Arizonans – and all Americans – lead longer and healthier lives, and benefits Arizona’s economic health, as well, through skilled jobs, purchasing, technology transfer, spin-off companies and the education of future healthcare professionals.