Keck grant launches Gulf Coast Consortia

November 29, 2001

Collaboration addresses national shortage of researchers, enriches research environment

HOUSTON - Six public and private institutions based in the Houston/Galveston region have launched the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC), a new research and education initiative funded in part by a $3.5 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles.

Consortia member institutions are: Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, University of Houston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"The GCC represents a degree of inter-institutional cooperation rarely found in the United States and will serve as a model for the international scientific community," said Dr. Wah Chiu, chair of the GCC oversight committee and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor.

"Building on the individual strengths of each institutions and their rich cultures, the GCC will have tremendous scientific breadth," Chiu said. "It will be at the forefront of the discovery of basic biological knowledge and its applications for the prevention and treatment of disease. Indeed, the GCC will be one of the largest consortia worldwide, boasting skilled multidisciplinary faculty teams with access to the latest technologies in describing and understanding biological phenomena."

The educational component will include an expansion of the Keck Center for Computational Biology, which was initiated in 1990 by Keck Foundation funding to Baylor and Rice, and later expanded to include the UH and UT-H Health Science Center. Under the auspices of the GCC, this educational component will involve 90 faculty from six institutions, who will train more than 100 students in the latest advances in computational, mathematical, physical and chemical biology.

"In so doing, we will help address the national shortage of researchers at the interface of biology with computational and physical science disciplines," said Kathleen Matthews, dean of Natural Sciences at Rice and co-chair of the GCC oversight committee. "Each of the GCC members has been actively hiring faculty devoted to cross-disciplinary research and training in modern biological and biomedical sciences. In this enterprise, we are expanding our interactions and pooling our respective institutional strengths to create a novel training and research environment."

The research component of the GCC will build on the success of The Gulf Coast Consortium for Crystallography, a group founded when members of multiple institutions joined forces to obtain an X-ray beamline workbench at the Louisiana State University synchrotron, a key resource for modern crystallography. X-ray crystallography is a technique researchers use to determine the structure of complex biological structures such as viruses, DNA and proteins.

A portion of the Keck Foundation grant will be utilized to establish the Gulf Coast Consortium for Magnetic Resonance and the purchase of high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging devices. This technology will provide scientists with greater capabilities for exploring detailed, three-dimensional photos and dynamics of biological molecules, which will enhance scientific discoveries related to diseases. In addition, researchers can visualize detailed features within organs of small animals with different genetic makeup in a non-invasive manner.

"Given the massive amounts of biological data generated most recently by the sequencing of the human and other genomes, questions in modern biology can no longer be asked and answered solely by biologists," Chiu said. "The realm of the biological scientist in the 21st century intersects with that of the computer scientist, mathematician, statistician, chemist, engineer and physicist. The GCC will bring together complementary and disparate faculty expertise to define and develop new methodologies to study the function and structure relationships in increasingly complex biological systems."
For more information about GCC members visit the following Web sites:

GCC Web Site:
Baylor College of Medicine:
Rice University:
University of Houston:
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston:
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston:
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center:

Baylor College of Medicine

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