Massive new research effort will map inner workings of cells - San Francisco VA Medical Center chosen to host core laboratory

A new $50 million dollar research program launched this month will begin the daunting task of mapping out the thousands of molecular interactions that cells use in responding to their environment. The San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center will host one of the five core research labs that will collaborate on this project.

The Alliance For Cellular Signaling marks the first coordinated effort to describe the hundreds of pathways used by cells to convert a message from outside the cell into an appropriate response. This knowledge is essential to more efficient discovery of new drug treatments, said Paul Simpson, MD, co-director of the San Francisco core lab, staff cardiologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, and UC San Francisco professor of medicine. "Usually, (in cell signaling) researchers have only one or a few receptors or signaling molecules that they're interested in. This is going to look at the whole picture," he said. "It's like the human genome project of cell signaling," he said.

Last week, the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) announced their decision to fund the project, and anticipates spending $25 million dollars over five years for the Alliance. An equal sum will be contributed by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, said Simpson. At the SF VAMC, the Alliance funds will be administered by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education (NCIRE).

The payoffs for the project should be well worth the huge commitments of money and research time, Simpson said. "It should have tremendous therapeutic implications. At the moment drug development is often a hit-or-miss proposition, but if we understand how signaling works, we can design drugs that will block harmful processes; we can turn a specific switch on or off to get a specific result," he said.

The NIGMS grant will help to establish and fund core laboratories at five institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Me

Contact: Kevin Boyd
University of California - San Francisco

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