Chicago universities share new advanced research tools

Mitra Dutta, UIC Vice Chancellor for Research

“The CBC funding will help strengthen and expand our research capabilities,” says Mitra Dutta, UIC vice chancellor for research. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

The Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) has announced a $3 million infrastructure initiative to fund the purchase of high-impact, next-generation scientific equipment by its member universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago. The initiative aims to make modern and powerful tools available to the CBC research community, which also includes the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, at a time when federal grants for scientific infrastructure are scarce.

The CBC was launched in 2006 in response to a Searle family challenge to the three Chicago-based universities: design a plan that would strengthen local biomedical research in a unique, Midwestern-style that fosters collaboration rather than competition. Last May, members of the CBC crafted the Open Access Initiative, giving researchers from each of the three universities access to core-facility instrumentation at each institution at no additional “outsider” cost.

“The CBC funding will help strengthen and expand our research capabilities by allowing us to add to an already robust array of equipment available not only to UIC researchers, but also to our colleagues at Northwestern and University of Chicago through the Open Access Initiative,” said Mitra Dutta, vice chancellor for research at UIC.

The new infrastructure initiative builds upon the May agreement by providing each university $1 million to acquire novel, state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation. Each institution will provide additional resources, including space, staffing and long-term support, in order to efficiently utilize the new instruments.

“Chicago leads the nation with this new model for more economically acquiring cutting-edge technology for multiple institutions,” said CBC scientific co-director Shohei Koide, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the University of Chicago. “This initiative enables the establishment of transformative instrumentation capabilities, which will allow Chicago-area researchers to stay at the forefront of biomedical discovery.”

UIC will use the infrastructure initiative funding from the CBC to acquire a suite of systems for a Single Cell Analysis Core. The core will allow gene expression analysis and direct, quantitative measurement of proteins at the single-cell level. Recent evidence suggests that individual cells of the same type within a population can differ greatly. Since these differences could affect the function of the entire cell population, single-cell analysis is an important biomedical frontier. There is currently no complete single-cell analysis system in Chicago.

Northwestern will acquire a next-generation electron detector for its $5 million cryo-electron microscope (cryoEM) core facility. CryoEM allows researchers to visualize unaltered biological samples in their native environment, at scales ranging from cellular to near-atomic resolution. Among its many applications are the study of the molecular mechanisms of disease and predicting the behavior of drugs and biological matter. The new detector will markedly expand the capabilities of the facility. Only about 25 of these cameras are currently operational in the U.S., none of which are in the Midwest.

The University of Chicago will acquire a $1.6 million cryo-electron microscope that will operate in tandem with Northwestern’s facility to establish an integrated, multi-institutional center of excellence in cryoEM. It will greatly expand imaging capabilities and will allow UChicago to build upon and share its strengths in structural biology and molecular engineering. For challenging projects requiring higher resolution, the new microscope will be used to optimize specimen preparation before analysis at Northwestern’s cryoEM facility. Several units at UChicago will provide matching funds to complete the purchase.

“The CBC’s generous grant will provide a welcome addition to the University of Chicago’s state-of-the-art instrumentation and allows talented scientists from around our partner institutions to perform groundbreaking work,” said Donald Levy, vice president for research and for National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

Supported by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the CBC has strengthened the biomedical community in Chicago through a variety of programs, including the establishment of infrastructure facilities, aiding in technology acquisition and funding research grants.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, this latest gift will build on our existing strength in cryoEM,” said Jay Walsh, Northwestern’s vice president for research. “It will also strengthen the CBC and our partnerships with the University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago.”

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