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--Johns Hopkins Ion Channel Center Will Serve As Nationwide Resource
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have been awarded a $10 million "Roadmap" grant by the National Institute of Mental Health branch of the National Institutes of Health to establish the new Ion Channel Center and work with researchers around the country to identify molecular probes that can bind and regulate the tiny protein channels that allow small nutrients into and out of cells.
Their findings will be freely available in a new database called PubChem, where properties of the molecular probes can be used as research tools or as starting points for drug development.
Corning Incorporated, an industrial partner, will match a portion of the grant to fund a joint effort to develop new technologies that aim to speed small molecule screening and drug discovery.
"Hopkins Medicine has invested significantly in technology platforms that enable these exciting, large-scale projects," says Chi V. Dang, M.D., Ph.D., the vice dean for research at Hopkins. "The breadth and scope of the new Ion Channel Center is very well suited to our collaborative atmosphere, and this award will enable us to extend that collaboration nationwide."
Channels and transporters have long been difficult to study because they have very small signals. Identifying probes that bind to and modulate channels would be a first step in amassing molecular tools to further understand channel function. Channels are involved in every aspect of biology from water transport to nerve cell function.
The new Johns Hopkins Ion Channel Center will use its state-of-the-art robotics to search through large collections containing between 300,000 and 500,000 chemicals of potential probes for channels specific for potassium, sodium, calcium and other important physiological ions. The center builds on ChemCORE, an existing molecule screening lab that was funded initially by Johns Hopkins' Institute for Cell Engineering and Brain Science Institute.
"Research on ion channels and transporters often requires special expertise and instrumentation because they generate tiny electrical impulses while embedded in cell membranes, and that's why they've been really challenging to study," says Min Li, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and the director of the new Johns Hopkins Ion Channel Center. "We have many channel experts here and also have significant infrastructure which we are very much looking forward to build upon."
The NIH Roadmap is an innovative approach to accelerate fundamental discovery and translation of that knowledge into effective prevention strategies and new treatments. The strategic initiatives to be funded under the NIH Roadmap will address critical roadblocks and knowledge gaps that currently constrain rapid progress in biomedical research. They will synergize the work of many NIH institutes and centers, and collectively they represent a unique effort that no single or group of institutes or centers or other entities can do, but are the responsibility of the NIH as a whole.
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