University of Chicago breaks ground for 10-story medical research facility

$162.5 million Center for Biomedical Discovery to focus on the science of pediatrics, cancer

October 17, 2005

At 6:00 p.m. on Monday, October 17, 2005, the University of Chicago will break ground for a 330,760-square-foot, 10-story, blue-green, glass-walled, $162.5 million building that will provide a state-of-the-art home for translational research programs in children's health, cancer, pulmonary edema and other medical specialties. It is scheduled to open in 2008.

The Center for Biomedical Discovery (CBD), on the east side of Drexel Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, will provide the missing link in the chain of recent building projects at the University and Hospitals. It will connect to the Center for Integrative Science (CIS), opening next month, the largest science building in the history of the University. It also will be geographically--and spiritually--connected to the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, which opened in February of 2005.

Researchers in the CBD will work at the interface between basic science and medicine. They will translate the sorts of fundamental scientific discoveries made by the biologists, chemists, and physicists in the CIS into better care for patients--including those in Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

"This facility is designed to capitalize on and extend two of this university's primary strengths," said James Madara, MD, dean of the Division of Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs. "It exploits the extraordinary diversity of our scientists, pulling together people from many backgrounds and specialties. It also takes advantage of their collegiality, their historical propensity to cross boundaries with abandon in order to work together on common, fundamental problems."

About half of the building will be devoted to the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Science, which will house up to 45 research teams. Physician-scientists in the Institute, known on campus as IMPS, will "explore childhood diseases at the most basic level," said Steven Goldstein, MD, PhD, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and director of the Institute. "We are aiming to reveal, understand, and leverage universal principles that apply to both children and adults."

The first of its kind in the country, the Institute "will harness the insights of the biomedical revolution and apply them to the care of sick children," said Goldstein. "It is dedicated to improving children's health through organized, team-based research on how genes influence disease." IMPS researchers will work with faculty all across the University of Chicago to understand the causes of disease, identify why some children develop diseases and others do not, determine why treatments work for some but not others, and help prevent childhood diseases.

Three world-renowned scientists--Benoit Roux, PhD, from Cornell; Eduardo Perozo, PhD, from the University of Virginia; and Francisco Bezanilla, PhD, from UCLA--have already been recruited to IMPS. All three are established leaders in the biophysics of ion channels, the complex systems used by cells to regulate their resources and activities. "Having these three on board makes my job easier," said Goldstein. "Many of the people we hope to recruit have already come calling on us."

One entire floor of the CBD, about 30,000 gross square feet, will be devoted to cancer research with particular emphasis on understanding metastasis, the process by which cancers spread from the original tumor to distant sites.

"We can frequently eradicate a primary tumor or regional disease with surgery or precisely targeted radiation," said Ralph Weichselbaum, MD, chairman of radiation and cellular oncology at the University, "but the most frequent cause of death is metastasis, cancer cells that split off from the primary and then lodge in distant sites, where they spawn multiple new cancers."

"By working toward a better understanding at the genetic and molecular level of the many steps in this long, complicated and as yet poorly understood process, we hope to find novel ways to interfere," said Weichselbaum. "If we could block metastasis, or find ways to direct therapy at the tools that allow a cancer cell to migrate, we could dramatically reduce the death toll from this disease."

Another research group that will move to the CBD is a team of 12 principal investigators who came to the University of Chicago earlier this year from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Led by Joe "Skip" Garcia, MD, chairman of medicine at Chicago since May 1, 2005, this is the leading group in the world in the study of vascular "leak," in which blood vessels become porous. Leaky vessels allow blood cells and fluids to escape into surrounding tissues, especially the lungs, under certain kinds of stress, causing inflammation, loss of function and extensive tissue damage.

The CBD, designed by the award-winning Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Los Angeles, California, was engineered to provide open, efficient, and flexible spaces for laboratories and offices and to encourage contact and cooperation within each lab and between different lab groups. In addition to the research spaces, it will feature a garden courtyard, conference and lecture halls, and several multi-story public and common spaces, to enhance the exchange of ideas between floors. This firm has extensive experience in the design of research and educational facilities, including several major buildings at the University of Southern California, University of California at San Diego, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and other academic medical centers.

The CBD will connect via third-level bridges south to the CIS and east to the Donnelley Biological Sciences Learning Center--the primary teaching facility for medical students and home to the Jules Knapp Research Center, which houses laboratories focused on genetics, cancer, immunology, and neurobiology.

The design combines a limestone, neogothic base, reflecting the campus heritage, with the open, airy feel of glass-curtain walls higher up. To lighten the visual impact, the architects varied the shape, glass designs and textures to emphasize the building's open, translucent qualities rather than its height. The serrated west wall, for example, gives each office a view north to the central city, as well as west over Washington Park.

Although most campus buildings top out at five-to-seven stories, this will be the first of several taller clinical or research structures planned for the northwest end of campus. "This is a 'plant-the-flag' building," said architect Dusty Rhoads of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca. "It sets the tone for a new precinct."

Researchers from IMPS and the Garcia lab are currently housed in the CIS and in the former children's hospital. They will move to the CBD when it opens in 2008.

Funding for the building will come from University resources, borrowing, and an ongoing philanthropic campaign. More than $15 million has already been committed for the facility and the programs within.

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