Have you ever wondered how your diet affects your heart? Or your liver? And not just for your general health, but at a molecular level? What is that cheeseburger doing to your heart, anyway?
Matt Merritt, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Florida (UF), wants to help answer those questions. He studies the role of metabolic pathways in heart failure and fatty liver disease. Specifically, he looks at ATP — the molecule used by all living things to store and transport energy. The results of his work have the potential to improve our understanding and treatment of illnesses as wide-ranging as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) magnets and instrumentation available at the National MagLab's AMRIS Facility at UF, Merritt studies how carbon is involved in ATP generation. However, phosphorus, another important element in the final step of ATP generation, has been beyond his reach because the special tool required to study it wasn’t available. Studying phosphorous requires a certain kind of probe — a stick-like piece of equipment that holds the sample and allows the scientist to insert it into the magnet.
Now, thanks to the addition of a new cryoprobe at the AMRIS Facility, Merritt and other MagLab users will be able to monitor phosphorus dynamics. With its electronics operating at very low, cryogenic temperatures, this probe enables monitoring of phosphorous-containing compounds at physiologic concentrations and will allow Merritt's group to gain a fuller understanding of metabolism (instead of studying carbon movement in isolation).
The new probe is larger (with a 10-mm diameter sample space) than existing cryoprobes in the facility and, in addition to phosphorus, can detect carbon and sodium isotopes, enabling researchers to obtain higher sensitivity data on larger samples. This probe is connected to a commercially built dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) system, another recent addition to the AMRIS Facility. The new DNP system, called HyperSense, is more automated than the facility's current DNP set-up, and can be operated by a single person, making it more user-friendly. The HyperSense, which is attached to the 600 MHz 51 mm NMR & MRI/S System and the new cryoprobe, will be available to users by the fall of 2018.
Photo: Researchers Ram Khattri (left) and Mukundan Ragavan work with the new cryoprobe. Photo by Elizabeth Webb.
Story by Elizabeth Webb.