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Magnetic Power

When an unfolding health crisis nearly brought a Wisconsin drug manufacturer’s work to a grinding halt earlier this year, only a few places in the country could offer the help the company needed to get going again. One of them happened to be on UW-Madison’s campus.

Known as the National Magnetic Resonance Facility at Madison (NMRFAM), the research lab houses several large machines called NMR spectrometers, which can be used to study the structure of molecules in fine detail. Too big and expensive for most labs to own and operate, the machines are used by academic and industry scientists seeking to understand the molecules involved in human health and disease.

That’s exactly what Scientific Protein Laboratories, of Waunakee, Wis., needed to do earlier this year. The company produces the active ingredient in heparin, a widely used drug that thins blood. After contaminated heparin from another source caused more than 80 deaths earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered rigorous testing of all heparin supplies to ensure their purity.

SPL placed an urgent call to the NMR lab, which scrambled to accommodate the request. The staff made several recommendations that helped the company save time and money, says SPL president David Strunce.

“The FDA was pushing for information immediately and your facility was the only one that could help us,” Strunce wrote in a letter to Milo Westler, NMRFAM’s director. “Without this accommodation, we would have been unable to meet the FDA deadlines.”