World’s largest and most powerful Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer arrives at St. Jude

New 1.1GHz NMR will allow St. Jude researchers to study proteins, DNA, RNA and other biomolecules to improve their understanding of the development of catastrophic diseases.

Memphis, Tennessee, September 6, 2019

Charalampos “Babis” Kalodimos, Ph.D, and  Youlin Xia stand in front of the new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer being installed at St. Jude.

The NMR is the centerpiece of the department’s expansion, which is being led by Charalampos “Babis” Kalodimos, Ph.D., department chair (left).  On right is Youlin Xia, director, Center for Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy, Structural Biology.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has acquired the first Ascend 1.1 GHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer, the largest and most powerful device of its kind from Massachusetts-based Bruker Corp.

The NMR will be used extensively by the Structural Biology Department at St. Jude using the most advanced technologies to tackle important biological systems with the goal to understand 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.”

With NMR technology, biological samples are placed inside the device’s magnet, where they are bombarded with radio waves. This results in the emission of signals that are read by the spectrometer and translated into images, which provide a visual of how protein structures change and interact with other cellular molecules. Cells release signaling molecules that bind to receptors inside other cells that create changes. Abnormal messages can result in the creation of abnormal proteins that don’t respond to normal cell signals and can grow unchecked. That growth is what causes cancer.

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.

James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO, said the addition of the NMR will significantly increase the technological infrastructure within the Structural Biology department.

“With the expansion of the Structural Biology Department, we are creating the world’s most comprehensive research center for defining the structure of the molecular machines that carry out basic functions within cells,” Downing said. “This information will enhance our ability to understand what drives pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases of childhood, and, ultimately, advance cures for these diseases.”

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.