Workshop attracts surprising response

By Tom O’Connor, UNMC Public Affairs | August 07, 2006

From small ideas, big things can grow.

The idea was to have a small workshop on structural biology and molecular biophysics. The expectations were low. As one of the workshop organizers, Kathryn Cleaves, an administrator in the Eppley Institute, said: "We were worried that only 10 people would show up."

The end result is that more than 150 people have signed up for the workshop, which will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Eppley Science Hall Amphitheater.

"We are amazed by the response -- overwhelmed," Cleaves said. "We're so pleased with the turnout that we plan to make it a national conference next year and hold it in the Durham Research Center."

The attendees are coming from all over the Midwest region, including all four campuses of the University of Nebraska, Creighton University, and the University of Kansas.

"We wanted to help people understand the power of structural biology and biophysical methods," said Gloria Borgstahl, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases and one of the four UNMC scientists who had the idea for the workshop. "They really are powerful tools in the science of medicine."

Dr. Borgstahl is one of the few X-ray crystallographers in the country. She analyzes crystals, typically the size of a grain of sand, to map the structure of human proteins. By doing so, scientists gain an understanding of the structure and function of proteins involved in DNA repair and can apply their findings to better control and treat a variety of diseases including cancer.

Four internationally-recognized speakers from around the country will speak at the workshop. They agenda is as follows:

  • 10 AM -- "Structure Guided Drug Discovery of Kinase Inhibitors for Imatinib-Resistant BCR-ABL and Other Oncology Targets" by Stephen Burley, M.D./Ph.D., chief scientific officer and senior vice president of research, SGX Pharmaceuticals, Inc., San Diego.

  • 11 AM -- "NMR Chemical Shifts, Dipolar Couplings, and Database Mining Applied to Structure Biology and Drug Discovery" by Frank Delaglio, Ph.D., staff scientist, NMR Science, Inc., Bax Group, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

  • Noon-2 PM -- poster session at the Durham Outpatient Center Atrium 2 PM "Using Force to Probe Conformational Stability of Weakly-Folded Proteins" by Evan Evans, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and physics at Boston University, Boston.

  • 3 PM -- "NMR-Based Structural Proteomics" by John Markley, Ph.D., Steenbock Professor of Biomolecular Structure, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As space permits, Cleaves said any UNMC scientists interested in attending the workshop are welcome to come to the Eppley Science Hall Amphitheater today for walk-in enrollment. "We will try to accommodate as many people as we can," she said.

The workshop is being offered through the Nebraska Center for Structural Biology, which was created in 2004 at UNMC with the help of a Nebraska Research Initiative Grant. The NCSB provides expertise in protein expression, purification, and structure determination at the atomic level with either X-ray crystallography or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

Others assisting Dr. Borgstahl and Cleaves in organizing the workshop were: Paul Sorgen, Ph.D., biochemistry and molecular biology; Gus Wang, Ph.D., Eppley Institute; Luis Marky, Ph.D., pharmaceutical science; and Carol Kolar, Eppley Institute. Corporate sponsors of the workshop include GE Healthcare, Isotec/Sigma-Aldrich, MicroCal LLC, Rigaku and Varian, Inc. Academic sponsors include the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, department of pharmaceutical sciences and the Eppley Institute.