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Grant To Fund New Chemistry Center

By Alexandra N. Atiya, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard researchers won a $10 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant last week, funding a new molecular development program that aims to bridge the gap between disciplines, schools and scientific approaches.

Stuart L. Schreiber, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, will direct the new center for Chemical Methodologies and Library Development (CMLD), a program that will integrate work being done at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the newly founded Broad Institute.

The new center will seek to develop techniques that will allow the creation of huge libraries of molecules which could then be screened by researchers at Harvard and around the world for potential biological applications.

The center will specifically fuel screening efforts that Schreiber, as well as two other of the five grant recipients, are a part of at HMS’ Institute of Chemistry and Cell Biology (ICCB).

According to John Tallarico, a fellow who works with Schreiber at ICCB, this latest grant will support a vital link in the interdisciplinary effort to harness chemical insights for biological ends.

“ICCB has been engaged in breaking down the barriers between chemists and biologists,” he said. “What this grant and this new center allows us to do is focus more on the chemists. It’s funding for the chemists’ sake.”

John Schwab, director of the chemical libraries and methodologies program at National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the division of the NIH which awarded the grant, said that the money will also go towards making chemists more involved in each other’s work.

“Historically...chemists have done their science quite one another, not in collaboration scientifically with other chemists or with people from outside chemistry. This funding program is specific for a group that will interact synergistically,” Schwab said.

The NIH grant is only the latest in a series of recent efforts undertaken by the University that look to leverage the combined strength of its science programs. It is also similar to other new projects in that it pledges to make its findings widely and publicly available on the internet, extending the model of the Human Genome Project.

“We see this center…as providing the tools that will be broadly applicable in academics as well as in industry,” Schwab said. “We are committed to having these intellectual tools, these methodologies, be freely available, either through publication and literature or by licensing.”

In June, University President Lawrence H. Summers announced the formation of the Broad Institute, a joint undertaking by Harvard, MIT and the Whitehead Institute. It too looks to combine the insights of a variety of disciplines for biomedical purposes, albeit on a slightly more immediate timescale, and is similarly based in a pledge to share its findings widely. Schreiber is a founding member of the Broad Institute, and researchers said the institute will provide administrative support to the new CMLD program.

Along with Harvard, researchers from the University of Kansas also received NIH chemical library development funds. The two universities join the University of Pittsburgh and Boston University as institutions with NIH funded CMLD centers.

—Staff Writer Alexandra N. Atiya can be reached at atiya@fas.harvard.edu.

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