UConn Health to build national center with $6.4 million grant


Staff at University of Connecticut Health use a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscope. UConn Health is building a new lab specifically for NMR spectroscopy which allows for study of molecules at the atomic level. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

A new biology data processing and analysis lab studying nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is being established at University of Connecticut Health, which will allow researchers to study biological molecules at the atomic level. 

“UConn Health is ideally suited for this type of prestigious national center,” UConn’s vice president for research, Jeffrey Seemann, Ph.D, said in the press release. “It builds on substantial investments made by the University in network infrastructure, and allows investigators from UConn and across the U.S. access to high performance tools to drive technology development and research breakthroughs.”

According to the press release, NMR spectroscopy allows biochemists to explore the properties of organic molecules. Its applications include studies of structural biology, diagnostics, drug discovery and metabolomics. 

However, setting up the software for a lab as advanced as this can be difficult. 

“Today, to set up the software environment needed for bimolecular NMR labs have to go to all the different providers of software, and download and install (which may include compilation from source code). Often they have to also locate and download ancillary software, such as run-time libraries or language interpreters,” director of the structural biology facility and new NMR center at UConn health, Jeffrey Hoch, PhD, said. 

Hoch said that the new lab will eliminate these problems by providing a pre-installed “virtual machine” (VM) of the software. 

“The center will archive ‘snapshots’ of the VM at regular intervals, so that if an operating system upgrade ‘breaks’ a software package, or hardware advances make an operating system or version obsolete, the old programs can still be run using the VM,” Hoch said. 

The press release stated that the center will provide software to support hundreds of NMR programs used in biomedical research, such as drug discovery and structural biology.

“The preconfigured VMs will make it easier for scientists to discover new software – many packages will already be in place so people won’t have to go looking for them. Another advantage of the new center is that it will make it easier to develop and support ‘meta’ software packages. These are software packages that consistent of many software packages that normally operate separately being used together to accomplish something that they can’t or don’t do separately,” Hoch said. 

Hoch said that the best part of the VM approach is that it is great for training students. Students will even be able to access the network on the iPhone, iPad or Android. 

The National Institute for General Medical Sciences within the National Institutes of Health provided a $6.4 million grant for funding the NMR lab. 

The National Center for Bio-NMR Data Processing and Analysis is set to launch in December 2015 and will be housed at UConn Health’s Farmington, Conn. campus.

Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.krueger@uconn.edu.

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