Umass Medical School changes the face of research

Building dedication heralds expanded focus on biomedical research

October 19, 2001

WORCESTER, Mass. - Highlighting the promise of biomedical research to be conducted within its gleaming glass walls, the University of Massachusetts Medical School dedicated and officially opened its 360,000-square-foot, $100 million laboratory facility today. Described as "the major building of the century on the Medical School campus," the 10-story building was completed, without state monies, in just 30 months from concept to occupancy and provides a tangible symbol of the ambitious course the Medical School has charted on its path toward national distinction.

"This breathtaking facility has not only transformed the face of our campus, it has solidified, for all of us, our vision of excellence in biomedical research-research that will impact people in profound ways as the causes of disease are discovered," said Aaron Lazare, MD, chancellor and dean of the Medical School.

Dr. Lazare presided over the ceremony and ribbon cutting, joined by William M. Bulger, president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system, and Archbishop of Boston Bernard Cardinal Law. The dedication followed a Convocation ceremony celebrating Dr. Lazare's 10th anniversary as chancellor and dean of the Medical School, a decade marked by dramatic growth and increased prestige for the institution.

"Under Dr. Lazare's stewardship, the Medical School has quickly become a leader in the areas of medical research that will change the way disease is treated, the way medicine is practiced," said President Bulger. "This new facility will bring together hundreds of the sharpest scientific minds in the world, collaborating to unravel the mysteries of human disease and alleviate human suffering."

During Convocation, John and Shelley Blais of Framingham made a surprise $1 million gift to the Medical School's Campaign for Research. The couple had previously donated $5 million toward pediatric cancer research in the new building, the largest contribution the Medical School has received from an individual donor.

Already occupied by some of the more than 100 researchers expected to utilize the state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, the building houses nine floors of laboratory and office space and was configured to meet the needs of a wide and changing variety of individual laboratory functions. Designed by Tsoi/Kobus & Associates of Cambridge, an architecture and interior design firm with a national reputation for laboratory and academic building design, the open laboratory layout encourages collaboration and interaction among scientists, with 18 lab modules per floor, accommodating up to eight people per module. The laboratory design plan is also one of the most efficient ever conceived-approximately 70 percent of each floor is "net" usable research space.

One floor that was originally set aside as shell space for future growth has been fully outfitted prior to the building's opening, thanks to a $2 million grant received in May 2001 from the National Center for Research Resources, an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The prestigious grant allows UMMS to outfit and equip laboratories to house the Program in Gene Function and Expression, led by Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and surgery. The program focuses on the molecular and genetic basis of human disease, particularly cancer, as well as the mechanisms that regulate how disease-related genes are expressed.

Research departments and programs already assigned space in the building include:

  • Department of Medicine: gene therapy techniques, such as how to insert genes into cells; diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, including new frontiers in immunology;
  • Cancer Center: new discoveries in bone marrow transplantation and gene therapy for cancer treatment; new approaches to understanding prostate, brain and ovarian cancer;
  • Program in Gene Function & Expression: exploration of the genetic basis of human disease, and a growing understanding of how genes work-or sometimes don't work;
  • Department of Neurobiology: new research programs in neurological development, with implications for disorders ranging from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to Alzheimer's disease;
  • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology: the science of how biological proteins are shaped and created, leading to drug discovery and drug design.

UMass Medical School has experienced one of the highest growth rates of funded research in this country. In fact, in the short time since the plans for this new building were announced in late September 1999, funding has increased from $92 million to $123 million today. Key to the institution's dramatic growth has been its ability to attract and retain top researchers from around the globe-researchers who in turn attract top research funding for their work. In 1998, Congress approved a five-year doubling of the National Institutes of Health research funding, while at the same time, an independent assessment of which research universities could expect to secure increased funding from the NIH put UMMS near the top. UMMS's ability to offer cutting-edge laboratory space in an efficient building enhances its ability to attract world-class researchers and funding. The new building adds 360,000 square feet to the Medical School's existing 600,000 square feet in on-campus buildings and approximately 83,000 square feet in the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park.

Although many of the scientists in the building also have clinical positions within UMass Memorial Medical Center, no patient care services are housed in the building. The laboratories are used solely by the Medical School for research.

The $100 million facility was constructed without state funding. Instead, $30 million was pledged at the time of the 1998 merger of the UMass Clinical System with Memorial Health Care; merger partners committed $15 million each toward support of cutting-edge research. Additionally, $5 million has been pledged by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO through the popular Walk to Cure Cancer, a Labor Day fund-raising walk that has steadily increased its participation level since its inaugural event in 1999. A $38 million fundraising campaign, launched in May 2001, has already raised $25 million, or 64 percent of goal. The sale of Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority (HEFA) bonds will fund the remainder of the construction costs-bonds that will be retired through the use of cost reimbursements that are part of federal research grants.

Beacon Skanska, USA, one of the foremost construction design firms in the world, was the lead contractor for the project. BR+A, of Boston was chosen as the mechanical systems contractor. In addition, key subcontractors on the project included:

  • Strategic Building Delivery: Gladstone/Leff
  • Laboratory Design: GPR Planners Collaborative
  • Structural Engineering: LeMessurier Consultants
  • Site Evaluation: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin
  • Core Borings/Soil Conditions: GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc.
  • Civil Engineering: Cullinan Engineering
  • Landscape Architecture: Strata Design Associates

Related Links:
National Institutes of Health This link goes to an external web site
Tsoi/Kobus Associates This link goes to an external web site
Beacon-Skanska USA This link goes to an external web site