By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
On the corner Duncan and Newstead Avenues, there’s been tremendous activity on the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis campus for many months. The more than $600 million building project will span almost a block on the edge of Cortex Innovation Community, one of the fastest-growing business, innovation and technology hubs in the United States.
Far-reaching benefits of the 609,000-square-foot facility are certain. It’s the medical school’s largest building project ever. Once every piece of the new building is in place and the structure’s doors open, the work that lies ahead will help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families; it will help the investigation and treatment of deadly brain tumors; the development of innovative pain management therapies; new therapies for severe mental illness and much more.
Before long, the 11-story state-of-the-art research building will bring together over 100 research teams focused on solving the many mysteries of the brain and the body’s nervous system. The neuroscience research building will have about 875 researchers from a wide array of disciplines, including the medical school’s neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery, psychiatry and anesthesiology departments.
“We have global excellence in neuroscience research, but we haven’t had any coordinating factor,” explained Jennifer K. Lodge, PhD, the university’s vice chancellor for research.
Lodge is part of the executive committee planning the new building, an important step to bringing many labs on campus committed to neuroscience together in one place.
“We’re designing this to have neighborhoods of researchers. So rather than each researcher having their own individual laboratory area, we have multiple researchers sharing the same space, “ said Lodge. “So we’ll bring together people from multiple departments and disciplines together around a theme rather than their departmental affiliation.”
“What’s exciting about the neuroscience research building is that it’s a theme-based building,” added Melissa Hopkins, the school’s assistant vice chancellor and assistant dean of operations and facilities. “It’s the first building that the school of medicine has built that is not based on any one science. It’s focused on building a state-of the-art neuroscience facility that has multiple themes, multiple focuses, and those themes include neurodegeneration, genetics, psychiatry, anesthesiology, a model systems group, (etc.). It’s meant to take all scientists and study of neuroscience to bring them together for collaboration and innovation.”
Understanding the brain is key to addressing many devastating afflictions, so Hopkins’ team methodical designed a space that can help.
“There are four neighborhoods per floor. The themes are about the researchers that sit within those neighborhoods,” she explained. “And the way people have been placed in the building, they are placed by complimentary research within those themes to enable more collaboration.”
Professor David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology is an internationally renowned expert on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Right now we’re not all in the same location and I think bringing some of those people even closer together will greatly add to some of the findings,” said Holtzman. “A lot of times new ideas come forth because of interactions that do need to occur in person.”
Being on the eastern edge of campus, the building is next to the Cortex Innovation District, offering inspiration for health-focused commercial applications and business development for successful research.
Once the building is completed, labs will move from other areas of campus into the new building in 2023, creating space and research possibilities throughout other areas of campus.
“This will enable other research at our institution to grow,” said Lodge. “We have excellence in infectious diseases and immunology which is critically important during this pandemic. We have expertise in cancer and it’s going to enable additional space for those programs to grow.”