UAlbany Launches $100 Million Life Sciences Research Initiative

Contact: Catherine Herman (518) 437-4980
 

University at Albany President Karen R. Hitchcock launched on Tuesday, Nov. 13 an initiative that will invest more than $100 million in public and private funds to build world-class strength in University research capabilities in the life sciences.

The keystone of this effort is the University's new $78 million, 194,000-square-foot Life Sciences Research Building, now rising on campus. Hitchcock announced the initiative at a symbolic cornerstone-laying ceremony next to the site.

Governor George Pataki had been scheduled to join Hitchcock at the event but was unable to attend in the wake of Monday's plane crash in Queens. But he sent a message to all attending the event that was read by Hitchcock.

"Our $3 billion SUNY/CUNY capital plan is revitalizing campuses all across our State - producing spectacular new facilities such as this one at UAlbany. This new building will re-energize the UAlbany campus, provide students and researchers with access to state-of-the-art labs and equipment and make the Capital Region a national leader in cutting-edge life sciences research," said Pataki.

"We are extremely grateful to Governor Pataki for his visionary leadership in proposing the $3 billion capital plan, which included this wonderful high-tech facility. We live at a time of remarkable breakthroughs in our understanding of the fundamental processes of life, and we can envision even more remarkable possibilities - ranging from new treatments for disease to new approaches to world hunger. Our Life Sciences Research Initiative will position the University at Albany at the cutting edge of these critical research areas," said Hitchcock.

"This public-private partnership will move our University and region to the next level in the area of life sciences. Our new building will provide the state-of-the-art space and facilities essential to support the collaborative enterprises that characterize so much research today, and these facilities will enable us to recruit and retain world-class life sciences researchers and research teams," said Hitchcock.

"This building and the research it supports will build on and complement the outstanding research in genomics and biomedical sciences that is under way at our East Campus. The University's expertise in nanotechnology, microelectronics and advanced materials is already being applied to biological and medical problems, and this new initiative will strengthen such cross-disciplinary research efforts. All these collaborative efforts will help build the region's biotechnology industry and drive economic growth," Hitchcock said.

New York State is providing $65 million of the building's construction costs through the $3 billion capital plan for the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Approximately $5 million more will come from research grants like the National Institutes of Health grant that has already been awarded to develop a fermentation facility in the building. The University is launching a fund raising drive for $20 million in private gifts for the Life Sciences Research Initiative - $8 million in support for the building and $12 million to recruit and retain nationally-prominent research teams to the University. This campaign, coupled with additional federal funding and University support, comprises a total investment of more than $100 million to build world-class life sciences research at the University.

Dr. Thomas D'Ambra, CEO of Albany Molecular Research, Inc. (AMRI) and chair of the fundraising effort for the Life Sciences Research Initiative, announced that he and his wife Constance would kick-start the fundraising campaign by pledging up to $1 million to match donations from University faculty, staff and friends.

"I pledge to work hard to meet this ambitious fundraising objective because I believe in the potential of the region, in the potential of the many researchers already here, and in the potential of what can be achieved in competing on a national level. A strong academic infrastructure is the core of all national clusters of the biotechnology industry. This is a great first step for the region," said D'Ambra.

AMRI itself, co-founded by D'Ambra and Chester Opalka, is a vital core of the region's developing strength in biotechnology and has been an essential partner in the transformation of the University's East Campus into a thriving center for biotechnology. A rapidly growing company, AMRI provides integrated chemistry research and development services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

Deliberately designed with flexible laboratory space, the Life Sciences Research Building will ultimately house 39 research groups from a variety of life science disciplines. Researchers from departments including psychology, biology, and chemistry, who are working in areas related to the life sciences, will share the facilities and space, configured to encourage formal and informal interaction between research groups to foster synergy among researchers.

Equipment and technologies critical to advance discovery across the spectrum of disciplines will include those necessary to promote research in genomics, bioinformatics, proteomics, microarray, mouse transgenesis, cell culture, and imaging, as well as mass spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

"The construction of this state-of-the-art Life Sciences Research Building is yet another example of our strong commitment to the promotion of the biotechnology industry in New York State. This facility, part of a $100 million initiative, truly establishes the University at Albany as a premier research institution," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno in a statement.

"The Assembly Majority committed its support to the UAlbany Life Sciences Research Building because it recognized the need for a biotech facility of this stature in order to attract the cutting-edge research of world-class scientists pursuing the latest and most promising technologies of our time," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a statement. "Biomedical research holds much potential not only for fighting disease but also for creating jobs. The top-flight research and training to take place at this building will strengthen New York's foothold in biomedicine and provide employment opportunities for generations to come."

"Modern science is now breaking down barriers between traditional disciplines in order to solve modern complex medical problems. Indeed today's scientists need to know more and more about areas outside traditional areas of expertise. This magnificent new building will gather the University at Albany's leading research minds under one roof to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration in the fields of biology, chemistry and bio-chemistry. The research conducted by our scientists in this new facility will lead to breakthroughs that will ensure New York's social and economic well-being," said SUNY Chancellor Robert King in a statement.

The University's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics, established on the East Campus in 1999 to advance understanding of human genetic processes, boasts the kinds of sophisticated facilities that will be part of the Life Sciences Research Building. The expertise of CCFG researchers and the core facilities have, in turn, helped attract companies to the East Campus and major research funding. Both CCFG Co-directors Paulette McCormick and Albert Millis see the Life Sciences Research Initiative as critical to the success of their program on the East Campus.

"Already we see a positive impact on our efforts to attract new faculty and when this state-of-the-art facility is completed we will be equipped to support a critical mass of researchers doing cutting-edge molecular biology," says McCormick.

"The physical infrastructure is absolutely essential to attract the best scientists. To paraphrase the film Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come," says Millis.

Research teams to be recruited through the new Initiative are expected to fall into such areas as transgenesis and genetic manipulation, structural analysis of proteins and DNA, function of biomolecules at cellular and organismal level, and population genetics, molecular evolution, and behavior.

Also in the facility will be a 3,000-square-foot fermentation facility that will enable researchers to grow the large amounts of yeast and bacterial cells that are needed to purify individual enzymes and protein complexes on a large scale. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant totaling $619,855 is helping support construction of that center.

The new Life Sciences Research Building, located adjacent to the University's existing Biology Building on the east side of the uptown campus, is scheduled for completion in 2004-05. Northland Associates of Syracuse is the contractor for the building. Hillier/New York, one of the largest architectural firms in the U.S. and the recipient of more than 250 awards for design excellence, is the architect.

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Nov. 13, 2001

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