OHSU: One of three centers selected by NIH to study cells at atomic level

Michael Chapman, Ph.D., Claudia Lopez, Ph.D., Steve Reichow, Ph.D., Eric Gouaux, Ph.D., and Craig Yoshioka, Ph.D.

$128 million NIH grant provides state-of-the-art electron microscopy technology, training to scientists nationwide

OHSU will become a national center for an imaging technique that is revolutionizing structural biology.

In partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, OHSU will be one of three national centers established by the National Institutes of Health in cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM. The others are located at the New York Structural Biology Center in Manhattan and at Stanford University. The NIH is investing $128 million to establish all three centers and expand the use of this Nobel Prize-winning method of imaging. The NIH is putting an additional $1.5 million toward training users.

Read more about the new Pacific Northwest Center for Cryo-EM on OHSU News.

Eric Gouaux , Ph.D., investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a senior scientist in the OHSU Vollum Institute, is one of three principal investigators designated for the center at OHSU, along with Michael Chapman, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the OHSU School of Medicine, and James Evans, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

The new Pacific Northwest Center for Cryo-EM will add four powerful microscopes to OHSU’s campus. The center will be co-located with the cryo-EM facility in the OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine initially established by Joe Gray, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, with support from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and made available to OHSU investigators through the Multiscale Microscopy Core.

Providing access to ‘near-atomic’ resolution

Cryo-EM resolution is described as ‘near-atomic’ — scientists are able to see where the atoms are located within the protein.

As the technology advances, scientists expect they’ll get ever more detailed images of DNA, RNA, proteins, viruses and cells, revealing how they change shape and interact as they carry out the functions of life.

Read “New tool promises to accelerate basic science research” on OHSU News. 

Gouaux has established an international reputation for his work to improve basic understanding of the molecular structure and function of proteins that regulate communication between neurons in the brain, including the receptor involved in memory and learning, and the targets of therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as for schizophrenia and depression. Many of his previous breakthroughs involved the use of X-ray crystallography, but cryo-EM provides a unique ability to see how large networks of molecules are organized in fine detail.

This work is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health’s Common Fund and administered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences under Award Number U24GM129547.


Erik Robinson