February 3, 2012

Grant funds research into cell mechanics

A team of U of C professors has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a center that could lead to breakthroughs in researching diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.

The new Center for Multiscale Theory and Simulation (CMTS) will aim to develop better ways of predicting molecular motion inside of a cell to more accurately examine what happens to a cell when it is infected with a disease.

The Center will be led by Gregory Voth, the Haig P. Papazian Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry, and will bring together faculty from multiple fields, as well as the Computation Institute, the James Franck Institute, and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics.

Voth said that collaboration between different disciplines will improve the center’s understanding of molecular motion.

“The assembly of all of these building blocks working together defines the living cell in ways that are not well understood,” Voth said. “Multiscale theory and simulation develops new conceptual frameworks and computational methods to help researchers address the complex, connected scales of such problems and how they work together.”

The NSF money comes in the form of a Phase I grant, which will account for about 20 percent of the Center’s initial budget. Once the Center can show that it has made progress, Voth said that it will compete for a Phase II grant, which would give the center funds each year to expand.

Voth hopes that if the project receives its Phase II grant, CMTS will move into the Eckhardt Center, which is set for completion in 2015. CMTS currently operates out of Searle Chemistry Laboratory and the Gordon Center for Integrated Science.

According to a University statement, CMTS is the only NSF-funded research institution that combines a computational and theoretical approach to research in the field of chemistry. In addition to its scientific impact, the research it produces will help companies develop more advanced pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. According to its website, CMTS has already partnered with IBM, Genentech, and Schrödinger, Inc.

Voth has been working to develop the center since arriving at the U of C in 2010, and said that its creation put the University at the forefront of molecular motion research.

“One of my goals when moving to the U of C was to make it the world center in this particular area of research,” he said.