An $18.1 million award for the construction of a proteomics center has Yale poised to become a leader in a new field devoted to studying a wide range of heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders.

The contract, awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, provides funding to create one of 10 proteomics centers across the country. Proteomics, a new area of research that draws heavily on recent developments in mapping the human genome, relates to the study of proteins and their function within organisms. The contract, which runs through 2009, will involve 21 Yale faculty members from 12 different departments.

The School of Medicine also received a $1.4 million grant from NIH earlier this year to purchase a mass spectrometer that will be located in the Yale Cancer Center/Keck Laboratory Mass Spectrometry Resource. The award is the medical school’s largest equipment grant ever.

The mass spectrometer, weighing over 7,000 pounds, will be a key piece of equipment at the proteomics center because it can be used to identify proteins to an extremely high level of precision.

Carolyn Slayman, deputy dean at the medical school, said the proteomics contract will make Yale a leader in a field that is on the cutting edge of biotechnological developments.

“This is an area in which technology has been developed very rapidly — but also very expensively,” Slayman said.

Slayman said the contract will be helpful not only for the medical school, but for the entire University. Any Yale scientist will be able to have protein samples analyzed with the new technology.

Research at the Yale center will primarily focus on two specific areas of proteomics — identifying proteins and devising methods to block protein-to-protein interactions involved in disease, Kenneth Williams, director of Keck Laboratory and the principal investigator responsible for the award, said in a press release.

The Yale center intends to study such ailments as atherosclerosis, inflammation and a wide range of blood diseases, Williams said. In addition, the center will examine why patients reject organ transplants and chemotherapy treatments.

William Sessa, pharmacology professor and co-investigator in the proteomics center, said scientists have made significant breakthroughs in proteomics even though the field is in an early stage of development.

“This is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s nice to have this level of support,” Sessa said.

Williams said the center holds great potential in gaining a greater understanding of how the human body works.

“By developing two complementary technologies in parallel, we hope to use protein profiling to identify key proteins involved in diseases of the heart, lung and blood and then develop novel reagents capable of specifically blocking the activities of these proteins,” Williams said. “The overall goal is to increase our understanding of the disease process, which in turn should lead to more effective treatments.”