Henry Wellcome Building for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Facility

Exterior of the NMR building

The Henry Wellcome Building for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is the UK’s largest biomolecular NMR facility.

It provides academic and industrial users with open access to seven NMR spectrometers operating at 500-900 MHz, six cryogenic probes, and high-throughput autosamplers.

Researchers from across the world are invited to study the 3D structures and interactions of proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids and metabolites at the HBW-NMR; a national resource based in Birmingham, providing scientists with insights into the molecular basis of human health, cancer progression and infectious diseases.

Our goal is to provide researchers with the world’s best NMR technologies and services for the study of biomolecular structures, dynamics and interactions.  

The aim of the facility is to:

      • Provide state-of-the-art NMR services for internationally competitive biomedical research in fields including structural biology, signal transduction, membrane trafficking, cancer mechanisms and metabolic profiling of human disease,
      • Develop and make available next generation NMR technologies including high-field magnets, cryogenic probes, fast methods and high throughput autosamplers in order to open new avenues of scientific investigation
      • Support the NMR needs of collaborative research groups and global initiatives focusing on UK and European priority areas including structural proteomics, biomarker identification and drug discovery.

The Henry Wellcome Building for Biomolecular Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy is a national facility funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the University of Birmingham. 

The facility enables the study of the structure and behaviour of biomolecules in exquisite atomic detail, through the use of high-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers.

Established in 2004, the facility has benefitted from substantial funding. It houses eight magnets, operating at magnetic field strengths ranging from 500MHz – or 11.7 Tesla – to 900 MHz, or 21.1 Tesla. 

A new 1 GHz spectrometer, one of just four in the world currently, announced as part of a £20m investment from four of the UK’s research councils, will secure the University’s place as an internationally-leading centre for NMR research for the next decade. 

Birmingham’s unique line-up of magnets at a single location is available nowhere else in the UK – and few places in Europe. 

The facility supports internationally-competitive biomedical research,  by providing academic and industrial users with NMR services and access to our NMR systems. 

Our community of over 50 user groups and 30 universities span a variety of fields, including: structural biology; drug discovery; and metabolomics. 

Within the field of metabolomics, our users lead cutting-edge research to understand metabolism, and to develop diagnostic tools for identifying novel targets to extend lifespan and treat disease. The NMR facility supports this by providing specialised instrumentation, such as high-throughput sample changers and low-volume micro-cryoprobes to push detection limits, opening up new avenues for studying diseases where sample quantity is limited. 

NMR is ideally suited to a key role in drug discovery, with its ability to identify and validate protein ligand interactions, over a large range of binding affinities. 

In the field of fragment-based drug discovery, NMR is invaluable for its ability to accurately identify the binding of low-affinity ligands, and achieve low false-positive rates. 

Our users are leading on a wide range of structural biology projects, focused on the folds, functions, interactions and dynamics of enzymes, preceptors, signalling domains and other medically-important biomolecules. They determine three-dimensional structures of target proteins, and investigate the structural basis and mechanism behind protein function and disease. Changes in the chemical environment of individual atoms on ligand binding can be measured easily and efficiently.

NMR is unrivalled in its ability to provide structural and dynamic information on mechanistically-relevant but transiently low-populated conformational species. 

Our facility has a number of services at your disposal. We provide hands-on spectrometer access to our systems, ideal for expert NMR users. We can support the preparation of samples, and the collection processing of your NMR data.

The facility is also able to assist with training users to become independent users of the spectrometers, and we welcome interested colleagues to join us at our annual users’ meetings to network with the UK Biomolecular NMR community and learn more about how NMR can further your research. 

We look forward to collaborating with colleagues from all academic institutions, and companies wishing to demonstrate new NMR technologies or products, or who may want to develop new NMR applications and markets. 

NMR involves the detection of radiofrequency signals from several types of atoms placed in a magnetic field. It is used to reveal the three dimensional structures of proteins, which are composed of thousands of atoms uniquely arranged in space in order to perform a specific biological function within an organism.

The nuclei of hydrogen, carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 atoms precess and absorb energy at a specific frequency when placed in a strong magnetic field, generating a NMR signal. This is called nuclear magnetic resonance and occurs due to the weak magnetic properties of the nuclei of these atoms.

The specific frequency of each atomic nucleus depends on its interactions with other atoms in the molecule. By measuring the frequencies of hundreds of nuclei within a protein, its molecular structure can be deduced. This structure reveals the 3D shape of the protein and the chemical properties of pockets which bind other molecules and communicate biological information. These pockets can then be used to screen for and design inhibitors that block unwanted binding events involved in cancer or other diseases.

Powerful NMR spectrometers provide more information by separating and detecting the frequency signals of nuclei within even very large molecules. The 900 MHz magnet provides an extremely strong and stable field that yields stronger and better separated signals, allowing more accurate structures to be determined.

The strength of the NMR spectrometer is specified in terms of the resonance frequency of the hydrogen atoms within its magnetic field, and is expressed in megahertz (MHz). The 900 MHz spectrometer is equipped with a 21 Tesla magnet and is used to characterize demanding targets such as enzymes, membrane proteins and receptors.

To yield even better data, sensitivity is boosted by cryogenic probes which reduce the thermal noise when detecting the NMR signals. In addition, liquid handling robots are used to automatically prepare and inject samples, increasing the speed of the experiments. Together these advances have made NMR an invaluable tool for metabolomics and drug screening where low concentrations of biological and drug-like molecules can be rapidly assessed.

NMR has several unique advantages. It is a non-destructive technique, allowing samples to be regenerated for additional experiments. It is a versatile method, being used to determine concentrations, dynamics, folding, interactions and structures of a wide variety of molecules. NMR experiments are typically performed in liquids which resemble the cellular environment, allowing biologically relevant states to be observed.