Jan. 6, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 7

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    Hughes gift of $17.6 million to help fund IRB complex

    By Sharon Parmet
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has contributed $17.6 million to the University to help fund the construction of a new laboratory complex, informally known as the Interdivisional Research Building.

    The building, which is projected to cost $131.5 million, will house a combination of programs from the biological and physical sciences.

    The Interdivisional Research Building will be designed to enhance collaboration and ease the sharing of ideas among researchers in the biological and physical sciences and Howard Hughes Investigators by bringing scientists from different fields within close proximity to one another. The researchers in the Interdivisional Research Building will devote themselves to developing high-impact projects of extraordinary complexity that overflow the boundaries between particular disciplines.

    Howard Hughes Investigators carry out research at universities and academic medical centers across the United States and include many of the world’s leaders in cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology.

    The University’s seven Howard Hughes Investigators are Graeme Bell, the Louis Block Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Elaine Fuchs, the Amgen Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Susan Lindquist, the Albert D. Lasker Professor of Medical Sciences in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology; Nipam Patel, Assistant Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy; Joseph Piccirilli, Assistant Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Harinder Singh, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology; and Donald Steiner, the A.N. Pritzker Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.

    In the new building––to be completed in 2003––the Howard Hughes Investigators will joinother University scientists in Chemistry, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, the Ben May Institute for Cancer Research, the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics and the James Franck Institute.

    “We are extremely pleased that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute shares our vision that incredible science will result from juxtaposing these scientists in a single place,” said Glenn Steele Jr., Dean of the Biological Sciences Division at the University and Vice President for Medical Affairs.

    “We expect that this combination will lead to the development of high-impact projects that transcend the boundaries separating the traditional disciplines of the biological and physical sciences.”

    Fuchs said, “The interface between biology, chemistry and physics continues to be one of the most exciting areas of science.

    “The new opportunities for interdivisional interaction have the potential to make the University a national focus for this explosion of exciting new research.”

    The relocation of the University’s Howard Hughes Investigators from the Peck Pavilion to the Interdivisional Research Building will, for example, support a new project in which Lindquist and researchers from the Chemistry and Physics departments will use the inherent complexity and diversity found in biological systems to develop new functional materials.

    “The mixture of biological and physical sciences in the new building is certain to lead to advances that we can’t even predict right now,” said Patel.

    “Even though my own lab focuses on developmental and evolutionary questions, biochemical and molecular techniques are the driving technology behind much of the work, and greater proximity to those at the forefront of these technologies is bound to accelerate our own progress.”

    The 33,700 net square feet to be dedicated to the Howard Hughes Investigators––about 15 percent of the new structure––will provide space for their laboratories and offices.

    The University’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s administrative functions also will have a new home in the building.

    As the cornerstone of the science quadrangle, the building will be a focal point for physical scientists as well as for biological researchers in the nearby Biological Sciences Learning Center, the Kovler Laboratories for Viral Oncology, the new Biopsychology Science Building and the Cummings Life Sciences Building.

    “New ideas often come from unexpected sources,” said Steiner, an authority on precursor proteins––rough cuts of proteins such as insulin that need to be modified before they are able to function normally.

    “Biophysicists, chemists and structural biologists working together in this structure are sure to contribute seminal ideas that will push back the frontiers of science.”

    David Oxtoby, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division, said, “I am especially excited about the close connections that will be established between the biological sciences and those physical scientists working in fields ranging from condensed-matter physics to synthetic chemistry to complexity theory. This new building will foster exciting new science at the interfaces.”

    Groundbreaking for the Interdivisional Research Building is planned for summer 2000. The building will be approximately 375,000 gross square feet and will be located on 57th Street, west of Ellis Avenue, on a site currently occupied by Whitman Laboratory, the Visual Sciences Laboratories and Phemister Hall.

    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute contribution will pay construction costs for space devoted to the University’s Howard Hughes Investigators and their administrative-services offices. Hughes representatives are working with University faculty, administrators and the Interdivisional Research Building architects from Ellenzweig Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to design the laboratory space.