Rutgers is on the 'NIH Roadmap'

October 18, 2004

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than $4 million in three grants to partnerships involving institutes and centers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The grants are funded through the "NIH Roadmap" program, a series of initiatives designed to accelerate biomedical research in the 21st century.

NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni devised the road map concept to identify major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research and address them in ways to make the biggest impact on the progress of medical research. A crucial element in this approach is interdisciplinary collaboration and research encouraged and promoted by NIH.

"We have made remarkable progress in medical research in recent decades, and NIH-led research has changed the landscape of many diseases," Zerhouni said. "However, very real - and very urgent - needs remain. NIH is now drawing all fields of science together in a concerted effort to meet these challenges head-on."

In this spirit, one of the new grants was awarded to a group of 34 Rutgers and UMDNJ faculty members from the BioMaPS (Biological, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences interfaces) Institute for Quantitative Biology; the Cancer Institute of New Jersey; the Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium (NESG); and the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics/Protein Data Bank (PDB). Two million dollars over five years will support the training of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the new, interdisciplinary field of proteomics - the study of the ever-changing complement of proteins that direct the activities of living cells.

Understanding protein structure, function and interactions can lead to an understanding of the molecular basis of disease. Principal investigator Ronald Levy, co-director of the BioMaPS Institute, and co-principal investigators Gaetano Montelione, director of the NESG, and Helen Berman, director of the PDB, along with other faculty members, will be involved in administering the training grant. The grant will be based at the BioMaPS Institute.

Wilma Olson, Mary I. Bunting Professor of Chemistry, and BioMaPS Administrative Director Paul Ehrlich won a $445,000 "NIH Roadmap" grant for a joint effort of the Institute and the Center for Molecular Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry. The centerpiece of this initiative is developing short courses to foster interdisciplinary research. Students in quantitative fields, such as mathematics and physics, will receive an in-depth introduction to a topic in biology that should prepare them for collaborating with researchers in that area and ease their entry into other biological fields.

The course also provides material for the BioMaPS Web site and the curriculum for a semester-length course taught by Olson and Ehrlich. The first short course focused on gene transcription and was held at Rutgers this past summer. It involved experts from several universities, including Rutgers, UMDNJ, Princeton, Rockefeller, Cornell, and Wisconsin. More than 60 students participated from about 20 universities, corporations and research institutes.

The third grant will be used to address the computational challenges in the study of large molecular complexes that form the machinery responsible for most biological processes. The study of these molecular machines is particularly relevant to understanding many diseases, such as cancer and metabolic disorders. The virtual Computational Center for Biomolecular Complexes, a multicenter research initiative, is receiving a $1.85 million NIH Roadmap in funding to support this work.

The center brings together scientists from a variety of fields and involves collaborators from Rutgers, Baylor College of Medicine, the Scripps Research Institute and the University of Texas at Austin. These researchers will develop workshops for other scientists as well as undertake pilot studies. Team leader Helen Berman will utilize her experience managing the PDB to develop new computational systems and tools for the large amount of data involved in this work.

Rutgers University

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