The National Center for Macromolecular Imaging at Baylor College of Medicine has received a five-year, $9.5 million award from the National Center for Research Resources, maintaining a record of more than 24 years of support to advance the development of research technology in the field of electron cryo-microscopy.

NCRR, part of the National Institutes of Health, supports scientists and clinical researchers to advance critical technologies in structural biology, genomics, proteomics, imaging and computing in order to understand, detect, treat and prevent a wide range of diseases.

BCM's Macromolecular Imaging Center is an NCRR-designated Biomedical Technology Research Center for Structural Biology. It was established 22 years ago at BCM by Dr. Wah Chiu.

3-D structures

This center's missions are to develop technology for atomic resolution structure determination of molecular machines using electron cryo-microscopy, computer reconstruction and modeling.

"To understand complex molecular machines, we want to look at their three-dimensional structures in different physiological states at the atomic level," said Chiu. "These measurements can lead to working models for how these molecular machines work and are regulated so that new diagnostic or therapeutic strategies can be developed."

At the Macromolecular Imaging Center, these technologies have been applied to specimens relevant to cancer, infectious, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular and genetic diseases.

Biomedical goals

There are approximately 50 NCRR Biomedical Technology Research Centers across the country. Their goals are to:

Develop new technology and improve existing technology

Collaborate with other centers and biological investigators across the country, which drives the technology development

Share developed experimental and computational methodologies and facilities freely with global academic community (The Macromolecular Imaging Center has worked with over 600 scientists on experimental projects, and software produced in the center is in use by over 1,000 researchers worldwide.)

Train scientific researchers who do not have access to these technologies at their institutions

Since the Macromolecular Imaging Center's establishment at BCM, Chiu said the resolution of the biological structures has improved tenfold.

"New funding such as this recent award has enabled these advancements," said Chiu. "Instruments are getting better, computers are getting faster and our people are getting smarter."

The Macromolecular Imaging Center is co-directed by Dr. Steven J. Ludtke, associate professor of biochemistry, and Dr. Michael F. Schmid, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.