Lipids Get the Spotlight in New NIGMS 'Glue Grant'


NIGMS Communications Office
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Sherry Seethaler, UCSD
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While genes and proteins have long held starring roles in biomedical research, lipids—fats and oils—often have a more direct effect on human health. A new grant from the National Institutes of Health puts lipids at center stage in an ambitious scientific project that promises to shed light on heart disease, arthritis and other major illnesses.

The five-year grant will fund the LIPID MAPS Consortium, a large collaborative effort led by the University of California, San Diego. NIH anticipates total funding of about $35 million on the project.

The new award is a "glue grant," so named because it enables large-scale biomedical research projects by bringing diverse groups of scientists together. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences originally conceived of glue grants following consultations with leaders in the scientific community who emphasized the importance of confronting intractable biological problems with the expertise of large, multifaceted groups of scientists.

"Today's large, complex biomedical problems demand more intellectual and physical resources than a single laboratory or small group of laboratories can offer," said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health. "By funding scientists from diverse fields and bringing them together, this project dramatically increases the likelihood of a strong return on our research investment. We expect to significantly improve our understanding of the role of lipids in many serious diseases."

The LIPID MAPS Consortium will seek to identify and measure the amounts of all lipids within a cell. This information will give scientists a picture of how lipids interact with each other and with the inner structures of our cells at varying times and locations.

Funding for the project comes from NIGMS, part of the National Institutes of Health. NIGMS will provide $6.3 million for the first year of the project.

"NIGMS expects that this project will also yield new tools, methods and technologies for sorting out and measuring the changing levels of the 1,000 or more different lipids in a given cell," said Judith Greenberg, Ph.D., acting director of NIGMS.

Knowledge gained through the LIPID MAPS Consortium will help medical researchers develop better diagnostic devices and more effective ways to treat some of the common diseases that result from problems in the way cells use lipids.

Imbalances in lipids cause or play a role in diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. High cholesterol has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, which killed about 950,000 Americans in 2002, according to the American Heart Association. Lipids produced by immune system cells are involved in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, sepsis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Lipids also play a role in Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

Essential to life, lipids come in a wide variety and have many functions in the cell. They can be stored as an energy reserve for the cell. They make up cell membranes and are involved in communication within and between cells.

"Lipids are the most important biomolecules because they are the ultimate controllers and regulators of our bodily processes," said Edward Dennis, Ph.D., a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of California, San Diego, and principal investigator of the LIPID MAPS Consortium. For example, one class of lipids, the sterols, includes the hormones estrogen and testosterone which promote our gender-linked physical traits.

The LIPID MAPS Consortium is divided into six focus areas. The "lipidomics" focus area will investigate six major groupings of lipids. Other scientific focus areas will cover informatics, cell biology, lipid detection and quantitation, and lipid synthesis and characterization. More than 30 researchers at 16 universities and two corporations will be involved.

The bioinformatics focus area will integrate and organize the massive amounts of data the consortium plans to collect. Experimental results and protocols will be available through a public Web site.

The LIPID MAPS Consortium is the fifth glue grant awarded by NIGMS since 2000. For more information on all NIGMS glue grants, see:

For more information on the LIPID MAPS Consortium research plan, see: Link to external Web site

NIGMS' mission is to support basic biomedical research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.


Writer: Linda Joy