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New OHSU Lab Will Speed Drug Discovery Process

   Portland, Ore.

Oregon Opportunity helped fund Bioanalytical Shared Resource

Oregon Health & Science University researchers will more quickly move benchtop discoveries toward drug discoveries with the help of a new, service-oriented laboratory focused on bioanalysis and pharmacokinetics.

The Bioanalytical Shared Resource, or BSR, located in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, OHSU School of Medicine, will analyze drugs, drug metabolites and other molecules, such as simple peptides, oligonucleotides, lipids and steroids. It also provides open access to a laboratory where users prepare and analyze their own samples by high-pressure liquid chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.

The BSR is supported by the Oregon Opportunity, a $500 million biomedical research funding initiative, which paid for the purchase of two mass spectrometers and two high-pressure liquid chromatography instruments. The lab's first spectrometer was purchased through a joint venture between the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, OHSU's General Clinical Research Center, the OHSU Office of the Vice President for Research, the OHSU Cancer Institute, the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy's Department of Pharmacy Practice, and individual investigators.

Dennis Koop, Ph.D., OHSU professor of physiology and pharmacology, was appointed the BSR's director earlier this year. Two full-time staff members - Andrea DeBarber, Ph.D., research assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, and the BSR's assistant facilities director, and Dan Menasco, senior research assistant - also were hired with support from the department and the Oregon Cancer Institute.

"We have all the equipment. It is all up and running now," Koop said with a smile.

A main component of the BSR is the Pharmacokinetics Core, or PKCore, that functions as a service laboratory to offer the complete analysis of samples, including the development of analytical methods, sample preparation, and data analysis for clinical trials and basic science investigations. An important role for the PKCore is to provide support for the OHSU Cancer Institute.

"In the past, we couldn't do mass spectral analysis of this kind at OHSU," Koop said. "It was very expensive and time consuming to send samples to other facilities."

David Dawson, Ph.D., OHSU professor and chairman of physiology and pharmacology, said the BSR/PKCore will augment the department's organic chemistry initiative that will be the centerpiece of a new Program in Chemical Biology set to occupy space in the Biomedical Research Building, which will be completed in fall 2005.

"The Program in Chemical Biology will stimulate the identification of small molecules that act on specific cell components to modulate or control cellular processes," Dawson said. "A critical component of such research is the ability to identify the structure of designed small molecules and measure them in body fluids. The BSR/PKCore, together with our recently established nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) core, will provide this capability."

Dawson added that the ability to identify small molecules and determine how they are distributed in the body and eventually excreted "is critical to the development of new drugs."

That ability could make OHSU more competitive in the drug development arena. The lab will support both basic and clinical research, and it will, for the first time, give OHSU scientists the ability to move a drug from the research laboratory to testing in patients "without leaving the hill. The core is a critical link between the bench and the bedside," Dawson said.

"What this facility has the capability of doing is measuring small molecules," Koop said. "Small molecule analysis is an important investment to have on the hill. We've already had more than 50 investigators query about our services." The BSR will complement the work of the Proteomics Shared Resource that was launched earlier this year, and it uses mass spectral methods to identify and characterize proteins.

And investigators, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and medical residents, can quickly learn to operate the BSR's sophisticated equipment: Training will be available to users.

"This kind of training program is going to be very valuable," Koop said.

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