Researchers at the
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have been awarded a
"Roadmap" grant by the National Institute of Mental Health
branch of the NIH to establish the 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 Inc., 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," said Chi V. Dang, vice dean for
research at the School of Medicine. "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
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 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," said
Min Li, 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 building upon."
The NIH Roadmap is an innovative approach to
accelerating 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.