July 17, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 28



UTHSC allocates $7 million for technologies unique to region 

Just days after the formal announcement that scientists have deciphered most of the human genetic blueprint, the Health Science Center announced last week it is providing $7 million in grants to its scientists studying the functions of genes, proteins and molecules with the goal of understanding human diseases. 

"The Human Genome Project has forever changed the landscape of research in the biosciences," said Dr. John P. Howe, III, president. "In the face of these new amounts of genetic information, we must equip our South Texas scientists with the finest tools for this new age of discovery. These new technologies will help us attract and retain the most outstanding scientists of our region." 

Picture of graduate student with microscope
Graduate student Amber Mansell conducts an experiment in the Optical Imaging Center.

"This investment is historic because, with it, we will purchase various types of equipment that have never been available in San Antonio," said Dr. Bettie Sue Masters, the Robert A. Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry in the Department of Biochemistry. "Now that the human genome has been mapped, the quest to help people really begins. We have a genetic map, but it doesn't tell us anything until we also learn about gene-encoded proteins and how they function. This investment in resources, unique to our region, will greatly enhance our research capabilities." 

Dr. Masters, the only San Antonio scientist who holds membership in the prestigious Institute of Medicine, chaired the Health Science Center's Ad Hoc Core Research Facilities Committee, which recommended the 14 grant recipients in genetics, optical imaging, genetic mouse model development, DNA technologies, structural biology, macromolecular interaction modalities (studies of protein-to-protein and protein-to-DNA interactions), bioinformatics and other fields. 

Several grants support existing centers of research at UTHSC, including the multidisciplinary Optical Imaging Facility and the Center for Advanced DNA Technologies. Another grant supports research facilities that are developing animal models for diseases of genetic origin. 

"These core facilities are not limited to use by one department, but are designated to accommodate multidisciplinary research in each of our schools," Dr. Howe said. 

A fourth grant, closely related to the Human Genome Project, will support a bioinformatics center. The Health Science Center, under the leadership of Dr. Susan L. Naylor, professor of cellular and structural biology, is the leading worldwide repository of genetic information related to human chromosome 3. Dr. Naylor is one of the grant recipients. 

Picture of graduate student with spectrometer
Olga Pakhomova, post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Andrew Hinck, biochemistry, puts a protein sample into the Health Science Center's NMR spectrometer. 

Bioinformatics is a relatively new field of science that combines mathematics, computer science and biology for the study and interpretation of information about genes and proteins. "It involves using the computer to identify biological themes and patterns, with application to massive databases such as those the Human Genome Project is generating," Dr. Masters said. "The huge amount of data to sift and utilize will keep scientists busy for the remainder of this century, at least." 

Other grants were allocated to Drs. Andrew P. Hinck and Peter John Hart, assistant professors of biochemistry, who conduct research in UTHSC's Center for Biomolecular Structure Analysis. Dr. Hinck is an expert in solution nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) and Dr. Hart is an X-ray crystallographer. Both methods for structure analysis are becoming core technologies for contemporary biomedical scientists. Prior to establishment of the Center for Biomolecular Structure Analysis in late 1998, neither X-ray crystallography nor high-field NMR spectroscopy was available in San Antonio. 

Dr. Masters praised the diligence and dedication of the Core Research Facilities Committee. The project required site visits to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, the University of Michigan and Stanford University. The committee also hosted two invited site visitors, Dr. Mark Lively of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Dr. David Landsman of the National Library of Medicine. Drs. Lively and Landsman spent two days on campus as consultants on bioinformatics. 

"The development of these state-of-the-art facilities is a milestone in the development of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and for the communities it serves," Dr. Masters said. "Within a few months, researchers will be able to consider themselves at the forefront of technologies required to achieve the next level of knowledge. They will take the steps needed to translate the human genome map into useful, dynamic information for deciphering the causes and cures of human disease."

Click here to see a list of grant recipients and their projects.