NIGMS ‘Glue Grant’ Creates International Team to Study Membrane Proteins


August 10, 2010

All living cells are encased in a thin, pliable membrane. Proteins embedded in this membrane act as doors or windows, enabling a cell to receive messages and materials from its environment. Membrane proteins also act as key providers of energy. Scientists know that such proteins morph as they do their jobs. They also know that membrane proteins are difficult to study because they don’t dissolve easily in water, making them inaccessible to many standard laboratory techniques.

Now, to close the knowledge gap about these vital proteins, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences will support an interdisciplinary team of scientists who will use state-of-the-art biophysical and computational methods to understand how the structure and movement of membrane proteins determine their functions.

NIGMS will fund the project through a glue grant totaling $22.5 million over 5 years. Glue grants are so named because they bring together large, interdisciplinary teams of scientists. This project, called the Membrane Protein Structural Dynamics Consortium, includes investigators from 14 institutions in four different countries.

Eduardo Perozo, Ph.D., a biophysicist at the University of Chicago, will head the effort, which will combine structural biology, magnetic resonance, fluorescence spectroscopy, biochemistry, computational and biophysics techniques. The research will lead to insights about normal cell function and could help scientists better understand a wide range of diseases caused by faulty membrane proteins. In addition, because more than half of today’s medicines target membrane proteins, studying the proteins could pave the way for new or improved drugs.

The Membrane Protein Structural Dynamics Consortium includes scientists at Cornell University, Columbia University, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität (Germany), the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Toronto (Canada), the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin, Utrecht University (the Netherlands) and Vanderbilt University.