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UM News
September 13, 2011


The University of Montana recently received a five-year, $9.9 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources, an entity of the National Institutes of Health, to fund research on physiological processes and diseases from the standpoint of atomic structure, chemistry and physics.

The grant will fund research conducted at UM’s Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics, which is made up of faculty from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Division of Biological Sciences and the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The grant also recognizes the Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics as an NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE). UM’s center is one of only four new COBRE centers in the country funded this year.

“This award increases the opportunity for research and training at The University of Montana by providing salaries for junior investigators and their support staff, as well as funds for essential cutting-edge technology,” said Dr. Barbara Alving, National Center for Research Resources director.

Insights gained from the research will inspire new therapeutic approaches to drug resistance, heart disease, behavioral disorders and viral diseases, said Stephen Sprang, UM program director of the NIH COBRE grant.

It will fund the specific research of four UM faculty members:

  • Klara Briknarova will use advanced spectroscopic methods to understand how viruses employ specialized proteins to invade human cells.
  • Xi Chu will use quantum mechanical methods to learn how physiologically critical enzymes use metal ions to catalyze reactions.
  • Valeriy Smirnov will use state-of-the-art biochemical methods to understand the catalytic mechanism of an enzyme that uses iron to convert the common amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.
  • Erica Woodahl will use biochemical and spectroscopic methods to understand how certain transporter proteins alter the therapeutic effect of drugs and how this information can be used to improve drug development.

“The most important immediate impact of COBRE funding will be to accelerate the research of four talented young investigators on this campus and to provide resources to help UM recruit first-rate faculty at the forefront of biophysical and biomedical research,” Sprang said.

By providing support for common core facilities at UM, COBRE funds also will enhance scientific collaborations with UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience and the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, both of which also have been awarded funding as COBRE centers.

NIH is a national medical research agency that includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research and investigates the causes, treatments and cures for common and rare diseases. Its National Center for Research Resources provides laboratory scientists and clinical researchers with the resources and training they need to understand, detect, treat and prevent a wide range of diseases.



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Contact: Stephen Sprang, director, UM Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics, 406-243-6135,