Penn receives $9.5 mllion NIH grant to create center for molecular discovery

PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania is receiving $9.5 million from the National Institutes of Health during the next three years to establish the Penn Center for Molecular Discovery. The Penn team will screen the NIH repository of small molecules to discover new biological interactions.

Hundreds of thousands of molecules, collected and purified from natural sources or synthesized by chemists around the world, will be tested against biological targets for inhibitory or activating activity. The Penn center is one of nine facilities that the NIH is establishing across the country as part of the Molecular Library Screening Center Network.

"This initiative is comparable in scale and complexity to the Human Genome Project," said Scott Diamond, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the new center. "Small molecules come in an astronomically large variety of shapes and sizes that dwarfs the number of genes in the human genome. Finding the important ones within the NIH repository is a classic needle-haystack challenge, but we have robotic and biosensing tools that weren't available even a decade ago."

Each of the new NIH centers will be screening the compound repository against unique targets of biological interest provided by scientists around the country. The screening centers will create a massive, public-domain database where the interactions of thousands of chemicals with scores of biological targets can be data-mined. Such tools have previously been available to university researchers only in a very limited way at few sites.

"I can envision scientists around the world who study a disease or organism or a particular set of molecules downloading information that would have normally taken years to obtain," Diamond said.

The Penn center has developed a very special capability to print thousands of molecules on a glass surface the size of a business card and then test the molecules against proteas

Contact: Greg Lester
University of Pennsylvania

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