Featured Research

Tools and Technology: Accelerating Innovation

November 01, 2012

One of the hallmarks of the NC Research Campus is the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) and its array of scientific instrumentation not available at many other scientific centers. In the UNC Charlotte Life Sciences Session Tools and Technology: Accelerating Technology, scientists at the NCRC got the opportunity to elaborate on the array of instrumentation on campus.

“We have some very impressive facilities and a number of core laboratories that are in modern and appropriate fields for doing this nutrition, human health and agricultural research,” said Steve Lommel, PhD, DHMRI interim president. The goal of the DHMRI, he continued, is two-fold- to serve as the campus’ core laboratory and as a non-profit contract research organization. The DHMRI is also an integrative facility that combines its cores services in metabolomics, proteomics, genomics and imaging to find answers to the “complex questions of metagenomics and human genetic variation and plant variation.”

The NMR laboratory is one of the DHMRI’s core services available to scientists on and off campus. A 950 MHz Bruker is its most in-demand instruments. Its many uses include unknown compound identification, characterization of phytochemical interactions, drug molecule identification and interaction, protein structure determination and metabolomics.

“With one of the largest NMR’s in the world and the largest in the western hemisphere, we can do more complicated experiments,” said NMR Lab Manager Kevin Nagge, PhD.

Microscopy, another core DHMRI service, is essential to the comprehensive mission of the NCRC and DHMRI, commented DHMRI Director of Microscopy Anita McCauley. Because microscopy doesn’t come in a “one-size-fits-all package,” the DHMRI offers “unique instruments that meet each unique experimental need.” McCauley highlighted the DHMRI’s LSM 710 Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope, LSM 5 Live DuoScan, laser capture microdissection and a number of wide field and stereo microscope systems.

Another central NCRC service is bioinformatics. The UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Research Services Division collaborates regularly with the DHMRI bioinformatics staff and their other laboratories. “You’ve seen some of the work on the NCRC campus,” said Cory Brower, director of UNCC Bioinformatics Research Services Division. “It goes from working with plants and agriculture all the way to looking at clinical trials and involves the skills sets of a large number of people all coming together to help solve very complex problems.”

UNCC Bioinformatics offers a large range of services across areas spanning next generation sequencing to analysis of -omics platforms to standard bioinformatics analysis. Brower emphasized that they have “put together a (computational) cluster on the NCRC campus that can handle the type of analysis and needs that next gen sequencing and other types of work requires.”

UNCC and the DHRMI are not the only locations at the NCRC with powerful tools. Kelly Sheppard with the lab of Carol Cheatham, PhD, at the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute, described their use of Event Related Potential or ERP to study how nutrition affects brain development and subsequent cognition.

Subjects, usually infants and young children, wear a 128 electrode geodesic sensor net inside a dome that captures and measures the brain’s electrical activity as it comes to the scalp allowing for source localization of the brain’s electrical activity. Different from EEG techniques, which look at patterns of voltage overtime, ERP links brain activity to stimuli. In the Cheatham lab, they specifically look at latency or how long it takes for brain activity to occur; topographical distribution, where the brain activity comes to the scalp; and amplitude, how much brain activity changed in response to stimulus. Since the assessment of individual trials is not possible, the lab averages across trials and conditions, such as breast fed infants compared to formula fed, to interpret the data.

“The main benefit of ERP is the great temporal resolution,” Sheppard said. “Most brain imaging techniques require you to wait on the order of seconds or minutes for the reaction to the stimulus while ERP allows us to know immediately what is happening in the brain.”

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