IN THE SPOTLIGHT
New biotech building will bridge disciplines, unlock new opportunities
Researcher and Assistant Professor Amy Palmer arrived at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005, drawn by a unique initiative gathering force on campus. While completing her post-doctorate education at the University of California at San Diego, Palmer found her chemistry training intersecting more and more with her newfound interest in biology. It opened up a whole new way of thinking—something she wanted to preserve.
Palmer jumped at the opportunity to work with the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB), a clear example of CU’s commitment to biotechnology and biomedical research, bridging a handful of disciplines. “The vision is really enabling as far as the research goes and as far as the questions you can ask,” she said. This commitment will also be embodied by a brand new state-of-the-art research and teaching facility, the first phase of which is slated for completion in fall 2011.
State and university officials, including Gov. Bill Ritter and CU President Bruce Benson, will gather with CU community members today (September 9) at 4:15 p.m. on the East Campus to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building. The building will house CIMB, the department of chemical and biological engineering, and the biochemistry division faculty of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, totaling more than 60 faculty members and more than 500 researchers and support staff.
The facility will foster an interdisciplinary environment and greatly enhance science and engineering education and discovery at CU. Officials say the collaborative work will help develop more effective medical diagnoses and therapies for a variety of pressing human health issues, while also creating new opportunities in regenerative medicine. That’s where Palmer and her colleagues enter the picture.
Presently, Palmer leads a lab team working to develop fluorescent tools to track the location and movement of individual particles—molecules, ions, and proteins—within a cell. The group is largely interested in the presence of metals, such as zinc, copper and iron. The fundamental biological question stems from the desire to understand how the cells control the metals, which can reveal the origins of various diseases and conditions like prostate cancer or neurodegeneration. “It’s a real challenge because a cell is incredibly complex—there are hundreds of thousands of different molecules and proteins,” Palmer said. “And when metal homeostasis within a cell goes awry, it leads to a whole host of different diseases.”
Palmer said she expects the Caruthers building to unlock many possibilities for the university’s bioscience researchers, including herself. Her lab group hopes to use high-throughput screening censors to screen large libraries of compounds and identify those that affect a certain disease phenotype in a cell. This could one day allow them to determine what perturbs metal in a cell, as well as how to fix or enhance a perturbed cell, she said.
“I think about things from a certain perspective based on my chemical intuition, which is different from the ways that an engineer, a physicist, or a biologist think. And a lot of science is really enhanced when people with different perspectives get together to talk about the issues,” Palmer said. “To facilitate those interactions in this physical space will be really powerful, and I think we’ll see some amazing breakthroughs at the interfaces of these disciplines.”
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