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New biosciences building will bring medical experts together to accelerate advances

Sometimes the beginning of a breakthrough happens on a short walk down the hall to a colleague’s office. For ataxia researchers and other neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota‚ whose offices may be scattered in buildings across campus‚ bouncing ideas off of one another in person is not always so easy.

The Medical Biosciences Building, scheduled to open in fall 2009, is designed to foster collaboration among neuroscience researchers.

That will be changing soon‚ thanks to the 2006 Minnesota State Legislature’s decision to fund the 100‚000-plus-square-foot Medical Biosciences Building (MBB)‚ which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009.

Most of the MBB will be devoted to the neurosciences and will include space for the N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care. The new building will house existing programs in neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases such as ataxia‚ muscular dystrophy‚ Parkinson’s‚ and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The MBB also will house immunology research and be linked by skyway to the University’s internationally renowned Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR).

Lead ataxia researcher Harry Orr, Ph.D., says the new building will create three key opportunities for ataxia investigators and other neuroscientists. “It will allow us to recruit new faculty in this area‚ it will allow us to develop and access state-of-the-art core facilities‚ and it will allow ataxia researchers and other neuro-scientists to be in close proximity to one another‚ which will synergize our research‚” he says.

Assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology Michael Koob, Ph.D., will soon join his neuroscience colleagues in the new space but currently is physically separated from them.

Looking forward to the move are Michael Koob, Ph.D. (front), and his lab team of (from left) Kellie Benzow,Young Yoon, Ph.D., and Yi-Wei Yang, M.S.

“It has really cut down on the spontaneous interactions that would occur on a daily basis between researchers who share lab space‚” Koob says.

“I expect that coming together as a research community with shared interests and research goals will result in a huge increase in the number of collaborative projects our group is able to pursue.”

Becoming one of the top public research institutions in the nation remains an important initiative for the University. The 2008 state Legislature propelled the University a giant step forward when it approved funding for four additional state-of-the-art research buildings. The five-year project‚ backed by university-sold bonds‚ will cost $292 million and will provide additional space for the CMRR and research in infectious disease‚ cancer‚ and heart disease.

Neuromuscular disease researcher John Day, M.D., Ph.D., believes that the new space will be a valuable selling point for the 15 new neuroscience investigators the University is hoping to recruit.

“One of the things a candidate may ask is‚ ‘Do you have the space to do all the things you want me to do?’ And we can honestly say yes‚” says Day‚ a professor of neurology and director of the University’s Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center. “Top-notch investigators will be able to come in and right away have the physical resources they need to contribute‚ and that can give us the edge we need to maintain our leadership in biomedical sciences research.”

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