New beamline to boost advances in biomedical research

Professor Thomas Sorensen, principal beamline scientist, VMXi beamline, (left) and Sam Mallinson, University of Portsmouth (right) next to the automated loading system on the VMXi beamline CREDIT: Sean Dillow

University of Portsmouth researchers were the first academics to use Diamond Light Source’s new Versatile Macromolecular crystallography in situ (VMXi) beamline, the only one of its kind worldwide which was unveiled today.

A transformation of the I02 beamline, the VMXi beamline is solely dedicated to in situ X-ray measurements and has the capacity to store and carry out thousands of user crystallisation experiments under one roof.

Professor John McGeehan, co-director Institute of Biomedical and Biomolecular Science at the University of Portsmouth said: “Researchers from our institute work closely with Diamond on several important life science projects. Crystallisation is often a very long and iterative process where initial promising conditions are optimised until crystals suitable for the diffraction experiments are obtained. For challenging biological systems, this crystallisation process can be very complex indeed. This is where the new VMXi beamline will really help by hosting crystallisation experiments at the beamline and enable direct diffraction analysis without any additional manipulation, thus preserving the crystal integrity, and provide immediate feedback on crystal quality and parameters, even in the case of microcrystals (2-5 μm).

Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, meets HRH The Princess Royal, with Juan Sanchez-Wetherby, from Diamond Light Source CREDIT: Sean Dillow

“With this insight, users like ourselves can progress their crystallisation experiments in a more rational way – and for some projects finally make some progress.”

Boasting a fully automated environment to allow the rapid turnaround and remote interaction, it will boost advances in biomedical research. Scientists will also be able to examine crystals at a much earlier state than previously possible and Diamond will be able to deliver increased capacity to researchers.
The first industrial users AstraZeneca collected the first data on this beamline on December 19.

Thomas Sorensen, science leader for the VMXi beamline said: “We have transformed one of Diamonds original structural beamlines into a completely new ‘beast’. The whole process of characterisation and data collection from samples has been fully automated enabling users to interact remotely with the beamline and request X-ray analysis without the need for their direct participation in the X-ray experiment. This allows for the study of crystals as they emerge and for the collection of data from all crystals, including those that are too fragile to handle and those that cannot be cryo-cooled. This beamline is a real game changer.”

Professor John McGeehan remotely logged in to the VMXi beamline from the University of Portsmouth

The beamline was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal on February 8.

David Hargreaves, associate principal scientist, Crystallography at AstraZeneca, said: “Protein Crystallography is a valuable technique in drug discovery allowing chemists to design molecules and then visualise the details of their binding mode in the target protein. The new VMXi beamline will impact on the bottleneck area of crystallogenesis and optimisation by allowing novel insights into these poorly understood processes. The beamline also opens up new opportunities for the delivery of high throughput ligand bound structures without the need for traditional sample manipulation and freezing.”

CEO of Diamond Light Source, Andrew Harrison, said: “Over the years the beamline has generated insights into so many great structures and helped explain fundamental biological mechanisms including playing a key part earlier in the research process. We are now at the beginning of a new, faster and more accurate era for pharma related science.”



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