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University of Iowa to Showcase New High-Throughput Screening Facility

The first-in-state setup will allow multiple experiments to be conducted simultaneously.

By Anne Mathes
Iowa Now

The University of Iowa will hold an open house Friday, Sept. 21, to showcase the founding of a high-throughput screening facility, capable of performing rapid-fire experiments involving large amounts of data and the first of its kind for academic use in the state.

The facility allows researchers campus-wide to conduct experiments that previously would have taken years to complete. The equipment uses a combination of miniaturization, robotics, and data management software to accomplish many thousands of individual experiments in rapid, parallel fashion. In a single day, high-throughput robotics on the UI campus can perform up to 50,000 experiments.

The open house will be held at 2:30 p.m. in Room S318 in the College of Pharmacy Building, 115 South Grand Ave.

The facility at the UI was funded through a $730,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, which has supported other, similar facilities in the U.S. since 2004. Having the instrument on the UI campus allows students to train in this cutting-edge, industrial practice, and lends a new angle for investigators to develop tools that aid their research projects.

“High throughput screening is an increasingly important tool in biomolecular research. We use high throughput screening to obtain lead compounds to probe the biology of protein targets that we investigate. Some of these leads have the potential to validate a target as something one wants to modulate in disease,” says Charles Brenner, professor and head of the biochemistry department in the UI Carver College of Medicine. “In addition, this is increasingly how one identifies drug-like molecules for further development. Given the size of the biomolecular enterprise at the University of Iowa, it was clear that the time is right to build a screening facility.”

The facility provides a scalable high-throughput screening platform for UI investigators and beyond for clinically significant drug discovery targets as well as probes for biological functions of novel targets. This tells researchers which compounds work and why. The method also allows investigators to formulate questions, or hypotheses, from data generated by the screening, which can lead to new directions in research that may not have been entertained otherwise. The facility then can be used to test the new hypotheses.

The facility is the result of a three-year effort by more than 20 investigators across the university, led by Kevin Rice, professor in the College of Pharmacy and the principal investigator on the grant.

According to Meng Wu, the facility’s director, the equipment will “serve as a hub to promote collaboration within and beyond campus.”

“On one hand, the facility can offer the investigators the high throughput approaches to study their favorite targets for their functions, interaction, and potential pharmaceutical applications,” he says. “On the other hand, the high throughput screening results will be the basis for the collaboration with multiple disciplines. Even later stage collaboration can still be performed with a high throughput approaches with the expertise from different fields.”

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