National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
January 24, 2012 • Volume 9 / Number 2


NIH and Industry Create "Living Lab" to Study Molecular Structures and Disease

GroEL protein complex visualized using state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy GroEL protein complex visualized using state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and FEI, a scientific instruments company based in Hillsboro, OR, have created the Living Lab Structural Biology Center, a public-private partnership that will use near-atomic resolution microscopy and other technologies to investigate molecular structures that play a role in cancer and other diseases.

The lab, located on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, is an interdisciplinary collaboration involving experts from FEI, NCI, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in the fields of cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, and biochemistry. A Titan Krios transmission electron microscope, one of the world's most powerful electron microscopes available commercially, will be located at NIH to enable the collaborative research.

This research effort will develop methods and workflows, from sample preparation through data analysis, that combine information from all of the technologies in the Living Lab. Scientists have historically relied on nuclear magnetic resonance and x-ray diffraction techniques to determine the structures of molecular complexes and proteins that play a role in various diseases. These methods have limitations, however. Cryo-electron microscopy provides near-atomic resolution without requiring crystallization of samples or limiting molecular size and complexity, as other techniques do. 

"Technical advances make it possible to tackle extraordinarily challenging problems," said Dr. Robert Wiltrout, director of NCI's Center for Cancer Research, in a news release. "Successful integration of cryo-electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and nuclear magnetic resonance results could accelerate discovery of biological mechanisms and provide powerful tools to assist drug design."

Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, a senior investigator in NCI's Laboratory of Cell Biology, directs the Living Lab. "The prospects for applying cryo-electron microscopy to study the structures of a broad spectrum of medically relevant complexes have changed dramatically in recent years with advances in microscope hardware and powerful new methods for image analysis," Dr. Subramaniam said in a news release.

CURE Report Focuses on Reducing Disparities in the Cancer Workforce

Cover of The CURE Paradigm: Enhancing Workforce Diversity

NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities has released a new monograph—The CURE Paradigm: Enhancing Workforce Diversity. The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program, launched in 1997, is a national research training and career development effort aimed at building and sustaining a pipeline of competitive cancer investigators from groups typically underrepresented in biomedical science and cancer research.

The monograph traces CURE's goals, its 15-year history, the training and career development opportunities available to trainees and students, the program's achievements to date, and its projected future. The monograph highlights five CURE trainees who describe how the program has enabled them to pursue cancer and health disparities research careers.

CURE is the first National Institutes of Health program to offer long-term support to qualified, underrepresented students and professionals who are at risk of being lost from the training pipeline. Starting with individuals as young as high school students and extending up to newly funded, independent, and competitive cancer researchers, CURE trains people from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds underrepresented in cancer research to help ensure a diverse workforce for the future.