St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has acquired the most powerful superconducting magnet in the world — part of a new tool that will help researchers see farther into cells than ever before.
The first Ascend 1.1 GHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer, the largest and most powerful device of its kind, will allow St. Jude researchers to study proteins, DNA, RNA and other biomolecules to better understand cancer and other catastrophic diseases that affect children.
The goal is to advance the research done at St. Jude and translate that research into cures for children. Having the right tool, the power and the resolution that the NMR provides will let scientists at St. Jude do research that, up until now, has been impossible.
The NMR will be used extensively by the Structural Biology Department at St. Jude to tackle important biological systems with the goal of understanding health and disease at the molecular and atomic level. It is the centerpiece of the department's expansion, which is being led by Charalampos "Babis" Kalodimos, Ph.D., department chair.
"This 1.1 GHz system provides unprecedented capabilities and opportunities for us to answer challenging biological questions," Kalodimos said. "It will be our most important tool to perform research in the area of dynamic molecular machines that are otherwise not amenable to other technologies.”
The new tool will also help St. Jude attract world-class scientists and researchers to join its mission, Kalodimos said.
Dr. James R. Downing, St. Jude president and CEO, said the addition of the NMR will significantly enhance the technological infrastructure within the Structural Biology Department.
"In our fight against pediatric cancer and other catastrophic childhood diseases, it is imperative that we learn as much as possible about the basic relationships within cells and how those relationships affect the growth and also treatment of disease," Downing said. "Investments in state-of-the-art technology like this NMR spectrometer allow us to make scientific progress faster. Not only will we be able to use NMR technology to identify proteins that may be the root cause of cancer, but we can also see how those proteins are affected by our treatments. This could lead to major breakthroughs in our understanding of disease pathogenesis and therapeutic responses."
In addition to the NMR, Kalodimos has overseen other technological upgrades and enhancements to the department, which utilizes four frontline techniques to examine biomolecular structures: cryogenic electron microscopy and tomography, NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography and single molecule imaging. Structural biologists combine the results from the use of each technique to understand the structures of complex biomolecular systems.