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SUCCESS STORIES

Instruct:
Europe’s research hub for structural biology

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Instruct is a dynamic, integrated research infrastructure for structural biology. Initiated in 2008, it has evolved into a prominent platform where cutting-edge technology, leading expertise and pioneering training combine in support of outstanding science. Instruct champions an integrated approach to structural biology. It strives to refine the quality of structural biology research in Europe by contributing to and promoting new developments and methodologies. It also provides strategic leadership for structural biology policy in Europe.

What has the project achieved?

Instruct is raising the quality, the accessibility and the impact of structural biology research in Europe. An online hub enables structural and cell biologists from industry and academia to apply for access to top-flight research facilities, subject to a simple, transparent, peer-reviewed process that allocates available opportunities based on merit and scientific priorities.

Instruct has secured the full membership of seven countries: Germany, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. An Operations Team based in the United Kingdom coordinates scientific activities currently run through 16 Instruct Centres and 4 Affiliate Centres. The Centres provide access to state-of-the-art technology and know-how, encouraging correlative approaches to crucial research.

How?

Access is offered through Instruct by several large European research centres with a distinguished reputation for scientific excellence and able to offer large scale or innovative technologies that might not be available through national or collaborative routes. This removes some of the obstacles for researchers whose work could produce high-impact outcomes, but who may need access to specific facilities located in another Member State to take their projects forward. Individual researchers can access all the facilities offered by Instruct by registering on the Instruct online Hub. Only scientists from Member states can apply for access to technology.

Instruct maintains close links with Pcube, BioNMR, Biostruct-X, and PRIME-XS, four projects financed in part by the Seventh Framework Programme (total of € 32.4 million EU contribution). They are, respectively, the 'Infrastructure for protein production platforms', the 'Nuclear magnetic resonance for structural biology', the 'Transnational access and enhancement of integrated biological structure determination at synchrotron X-ray radiation facilities' and the 'Proteomics Research Infrastructure Maximising knowledge EXchange and access (XS)' projects.

All four fund infrastructure access for structural biology. Instruct extends and streamlines this process by coordinating with these and other integrated infrastructures, and adds value by facilitating appropriate scheduling and extending expert support.

Why does this matter?

Structural biology has a significant impact on molecular medicine. The field's individual methodologies and technologies are well established, but the vast potential of an integrated approach remains largely untapped. It will help to solve crucial and complex problems that might otherwise be intractable or extremely time-consuming.

Structure-based methods are used to study biological function and underpin key steps in vaccine and drug design. The early drugs developed to treat HIV were structurally designed to stop the virus multiplying in the body. Tamiflu, which is used to treat influenza, is another example.

Integrated structural biology will refine the development of drugs. It will inform increasingly powerful design strategies and enhance the effectiveness of screening methods. Such advances will be invaluable in the face of global challenges like hunger and disease, and will flank Europe's adjustment to the needs and implications of an ageing population.

Who is involved?

Seven countries have currently signed up for full membership; Germany, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom and discussions with other Member States are under way. The participating Instruct Centres are located across the EU and in Israel.

Member states are entitled to representation on the Instruct Council. The council sets strategic objectives for the organisation and provides a top-level view of the European structural biology community and of its strengths, its needs and its global position.

What is the European Added Value

Instruct is bringing together a distributed infrastructure that enables scientists from across Europe to explore integrated approaches to structural biology. No single Member State has all the infrastructures, associated technologies or expertise needed to develop these alone. Instruct will therefore strengthen Europe's leading position in this important and competitive bio-medical science. It is well placed to deploy and test new systematic and correlative structural approaches and to spearhead the harmonisation of practices, for example the adoption of common formats to accelerate the deposition of data in public databases.

How much money has been funded by the EU?

Instruct is part of the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) Roadmap. The preparatory phase, implemented through the 'Integrated structural biology infrastructure' (INSTRUCT) project, benefited from €4.5 million of EU funding under FP7. This backing enabled the partners to formulate the strategic objectives, establish the governance and the operational structure, and secure commitment and funding from Member States. Instruct is now independently financed through member subscriptions.

For more information

Visit www.structuralbiology.eu or
contact Professor Dave Stuart, Instruct Director, coordinator@structuralbiology.eu

Pictures' captions:
1 The three-dimensional organization of polyribosomes in intact human cells as revealed by cryo-electron tomography.
2 Cell Culture reactor

Page added: 29 February 2012