UB, Hauptman-Woodward Agree on Long-Term Collaboration; Establish UB Department of Structural Biology at HWI

By Lois Baker

Release Date: February 14, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The University at Buffalo and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Inc. (HWI) have agreed to establish a UB Department of Structural Biology at HWI, initiating a 10-year collaboration that positions Buffalo to play a lead role in this critical field.

Officials of the two institutions announced the agreement today (Feb. 14, 2001) at a press conference held in UB's Jacobs Executive Development Center.

Under the agreement:

-- HWI will remain an independent entity and will continue to conduct its own research outside of projects being conducted by UB departmental faculty members.

-- The new department will be a unit of UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

-- Herbert A. Hauptman, Ph.D., HWI president and 1985 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, will join the department as distinguished professor

-- George T. DeTitta, Ph.D., HWI's executive director and chief operating officer, will be department chair and hold the title of professor.

-- Fifteen other HWI researchers will assume faculty positions in the department.

The agreement was signed by Christopher T. Greene, chairman of the HWI Board of Directors, and UB President William R. Greiner.

"This agreement brings together two outstanding institutions for groundbreaking research in structural biology and enables UB's students to have a unique educational opportunity to study both at the research institute and the university," said Greiner.

"It's a win-win situation not only for UB and Hauptman-Woodward, but also for Western New York, because the region is now positioned to become a leader in this exciting field," Greiner added. "We're looking forward to a long and most fruitful collaboration with the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

Greene said: "It is extremely rewarding to have been a part of this developing collaboration. This new department will not only allow Hauptman-Woodward to continue its rapid growth, but also add a new teaching element to the Main/High medical corridor.

"It is positive for us, the university, the medical corridor and all of Western New York," added Greene.

Hauptman said that "with Hauptman-Woodward involved with some of the world's leading scientists in crystallography and structural biology, this new department will provide a unique opportunity for students to learn and train in two different research environments -- an independent research institute and a university setting.

"It will allow our scientists to mentor graduate students and teach them our methods, spurring a greater interest in our work and facilitating the development of new relationships.

"It also will encourage the breaking down of walls, which all too often isolate individuals and groups from one another, thus making the diffusion of ideas more difficult. These ideas are needed to stimulate creativity in the individual scientist. Without the combined strengths of the university and Hauptman-Woodward, this experience would not be possible."

John R. Wright, dean of the UB medical school, said the new Department of Structural Biology "will strengthen professional interactions that already exist and greatly expand the opportunities for future collaboration.

"In many respects," he added, "the science at Hauptman-Woodward and at the medical school are complementary and this is therefore a particularly fortunate alignment for the Western New York community.

DeTitta noted that "this is an exciting time for biomedical research in Western New York. Biological scientists at UB, Roswell, Kaleida, D'Youville, and Canisius have worked, and will continue to work with structural scientists at HWI. Today we cement a relationship that has been 40 years in the making.

"Out of this relationship," he predicted, "will come medically relevant research of importance for its impact on our health and on our local economy."

Bruce Holm, senior associate dean in the UB medical school, explained that "structural biology is a scientific cornerstone in the future of pharmaceutical development, and Buffalo is fortunate to have such world class expertise in its midst.

"This initiative," he noted, "is also a key element of the larger bioinformatics initiative that will help to drive the future of the Western New York economy."

The field of structural biology dates to the 1930s, when scientists discovered it was possible to crystallize proteins and view them in three dimensions.

Hauptman received the Nobel Prize for an innovative mathematical technique called "direct methods," which has enabled scientists around the world to determine the three-dimensional structure of molecules rapidly and automatically, using computer programs.

The aim of structural biologists in the 21st century is to understand the operation of biological systems at the subcellular, molecular and atomic levels through the study of three-dimensional structures of DNA, RNA and proteins. Knowing the structure of specific proteins will enable scientists to target new drugs to treat chronic diseases.

The collaboration combines HWI's internationally known expertise in X-ray crystallography, an ultra-high-tech, high-speed method of determining protein structures, with UB's biologists, biochemists, biophysicists and its super-computing capabilities. UB and HWI already are working closely as members of the recently formed Northeast Structural Genomics (NESG) Consortium, a relationship that has resulted in a total of $3.1 million in grants to scientists at the two institutions for genomics research.

Funded through the John R. Oishei Foundation, HWI recently established a new robotics laboratory that will allow researchers to grow a large number of protein crystals for X-ray structural analysis in record time. UB has received $1.38 million through the NESG for research using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to determine the structure of proteins, adding to the department's armamentarium.

Faculty in the new department will perform advanced research and train scientists in the methods of modern structural biology. The department will be centered at HWI with UB outfitting additional laboratory space in its Biomedical Research Building on the South (Main Street) Campus to complement HWI's facilities.

The agreement calls for UB to staff the new department immediately with a minimum of four full-time-equivalent faculty positions. Two of those positions will be filled by six current HWI research scientists and by two new faculty members to be hired to work exclusively in the department. UB and HWI currently are recruiting those faculty members.

In addition to DeTitta and Hauptman, the HWI paid faculty members are: Robert H. Blessing, Ph.D., professor; Vivian Cody, Ph.D., professor; William L. Duax, Ph.D., professor, and Walter A. Pangborn, Ph.D., associate professor.

Eleven additional HWI scientists will assume uncompensated faculty positions in the department. Holding the rank of professor, all with doctorates, are Jeremy A. Bruenn, D.Y. Guo, and Charles M. Weeks. Associate professors, all holding doctorates, are Jane F. Griffin, Debashis Ghosh, David A. Langs, and G. David Smith. Assistant professors, all holding doctorates, are Chang I. Ban, L. Wayne Schultz, Yangzhou Wang and Hongliang Xu.

In addition, a number of faculty members from UB's graduate school division at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and other UB departments will be affiliated with the new department.