UCSC Review Winter 1996
Keck award will fund equipment for basic studies of diseases
The W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles has awarded $450,000 to UCSC for equipment that will let chemists and biologists explore the structures and functions of molecules that play roles in causing or treating human diseases.
The grant will help establish a laboratory for the study of biomolecules--substances that take part in the everyday processes of human life within our cells. A broad spectrum of UCSC scientists will use the new tools to study topics such as potential drugs from the tissues of marine organisms, proteins that can trigger cancer or other diseases by folding into certain harmful shapes, and enzymes that fix damaged DNA.
Such studies are many years removed from a new cure or treatment. However, all diseases arise from countless biomolecules gone awry: genes that have mutated, proteins that have stopped working, viruses that have commandeered a cell's machinery. Discovering the structures of such molecules--how they interact in the cell and how they arise in the first place--forms the basis for understanding a disease and finding ways to stop it.
Most of the funds from the Keck Foundation will pay for a new mass spectrometer, a sophisticated instrument that analyzes the compositions of substances in fine detail and provides clues about their molecular structures. The remaining funds will upgrade an existing facility for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, purchased last year with grants from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation ($100,000) and the National Science Foundation.
"This state-of-the-art equipment will significantly enhance the research capabilities of our faculty," says Thomas Schleich, chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "Declining budgets have made it very difficult for us to meet these needs without private support from donors such as the Keck Foundation."