Leading-edge, shared technologies are an important component of advancing research to improve health. Specialized instruments such as high-powered electron microscopes, high-resolution mass spectrometers and supercomputers that rapidly process vast amounts of data can enable breakthrough discoveries in preventions, treatments and cures for diseases.
Thanks to the Recovery Act, more health scientists now will have access to these state-of-the-art devices, the National Institutes of Health announced today. Through its National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), NIH has awarded $300 million in shared instrumentation grants.
In total, NCRR awarded more than 450 Recovery Act instrumentation grants to groups of NIH-funded scientists in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The grants, which range from $100,000 to $8 million, enable the purchase of technology that is vital to promising research projects.
"These Recovery Act awards make world class resources available to scientists nationwide," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "More researchers now will have access to the latest technologies that accelerate the pace of biomedical research, ultimately leading to new advances and treatments for diseases."
Following are three types of technologies and instruments funded by these grants, all of which have the potential to enhance a wide variety of biomedical research in many disease areas.
- Researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis will use a $7.8 million grant to purchase components of a 10.5 Tesla whole-body magnetic resonance imaging system. This instrument will be the most powerful of its kind in the world, providing scientists with unprecedented views inside the human body. In the past two decades, researchers have made great strides in developing instruments with increasingly powerful magnetic fields that can zoom in on finer structures. The 10.5 Tesla magnet will push the technology even further and allow them to see more details of the human brain, as well as the human torso and extremities, thereby improving disease detection and treatment monitoring.
- Using nearly $8 million, investigators at the University of Maryland, Baltimore have purchased a powerful 950 megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, to study human tissues and cells in atomic detail. Researchers from across the mid-Atlantic region will use this imaging device - one of just two in the country - to identify new ways to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease, and to design more effective drugs. These spectrometers apply strong magnetic fields to biological samples to extract information about the identity and locations of atoms within proteins, fats and other molecules. By analyzing cells and tissues in such detail, researchers can learn about disease processes and possible treatments.
- To examine cell division in detail, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle will use a nearly $215,000 award to develop a multicolor total internal reflection fluorescence microscope. This instrument overcomes a major obstacle of conventional fluorescence microscopy that leads to blurry images when fluorescent target molecules inside a cell are too close to one another. Using this microscope, researchers at the University of Washington plan to obtain detailed views of the cellular apparatus components responsible for pulling apart chromosomes as cells divide. The insights gained promise to revolutionize the design of cancer drugs that target these components.
"Innovative research requires access to the latest technologies," said NCRR Director Barbara Alving, M.D. "These high-performance tools will ensure that NIH-funded investigators remain at the forefront of modern biomedical research."
NCRR's instrumentation grants fall under two categories. The Shared Instrumentation Grant (SIG) program provides funding for NIH-supported investigators to obtain equipment in the $100,000 to $600,000 price range. Examples of instrumentation supported by SIG funding include nuclear magnetic resonance systems, cell sorters, and protein and DNA sequencers. The High-End Instrumentation (HEI) grant program supports the purchase of sophisticated research equipment costing more than $750,000 with a ceiling of $2 million. For the Recovery Act awards, the floor for the HEI program was adjusted to $600,000 and the ceiling was raised to $8 million to accommodate a broader range of technologies. Instruments in this price range include high-resolution mass spectrometers, electron microscopes and supercomputers.
SIG and HEI grants are highly cost-effective because the programs require that each instrument be shared by at least three researchers. Approximately eight to 10 investigators will share each of the instruments funded through this Recovery Act program, enabling a reach of more than 3,500 scientists nationwide.