Excavation is underway and ahead of schedule for Weill Cornell Medical College’s new Medical Research Building, scheduled to be completed by July 2013. As part of the college’s “Discoveries that Make a Difference Campaign,” the building will feature a new Cancer Center and will focus on interdisciplinary research and collaboration between the Ithaca and New York campuses.
The 480,000 square foot Medical Research Building, which will have 13 lab floors with an average of 10 research teams per floor, will be the “front door” to scientific research at Weill, according to Stephen Cohen, associate provost and executive vice dean for administration and finance at Weill Cornell Medical College. Its research approach will be interdisciplinary, focused more around disease categories than on traditional academic departments.
Despite the current economic climate, an advance donation by Sanford Weill ’55 last January has set the precedent for what has been a successful fund-raising campaign for the $650 million project.
“By and large, we have hit the fund-raising targets for the building,” Cohen said.
The college plans to dedicate two floors of the new building to cancer research, which will support the growth of the Weill Cornell Cancer Center. In addition, the Cancer Center hopes to recruit approximately ten new principle investigators focusing on cancer biology, according to Prof. Andrew Dannenberg, director of the Weill Cornell Cancer Center.
“The overarching goal [of the Cancer Center] is to reduce the cancer burden through basic and translational research,” Dannenberg said. “Currently we are in the midst of strategic planning to identify specific programs that will be developed.”
The Medical Research Building will facilitate joint projects between the Ithaca and New York City campuses. These joint projects will allow the Cancer Center to benefit from programs on the Ithaca campus — namely, biomedical engineering, nanomedicine and systems biology.
“Where medical science is going, it will require innovations in material science, innovations in biomedical engineering... . [T]hese are strengths that are significant on the Ithaca campus but which don’t exist at Weill Cornell,” Cohen said. “What we want to do is bring to [Weill] the enormous strengths that Ithaca has.”
Cohen sees this as a mutually-beneficial relationship: Weill will benefit from the research being done on the main Ithaca campus, and scientists on the main campus will have access to clinical information and see their discoveries translated into practice at Weill.
“It’s clear that the expertise is complementary whether it’s in engineering or the veterinary school,” Dannenberg said.
“[The scientists at the Ithaca campus] want to make sure their discoveries have relevance, and that’s one of the objectives of this building—to facilitate that,” Cohen said.
The five-year $13 million grant that Cornell received from the National Cancer Institute to establish a Physical Sciences-Oncology Center is an example of the type of inter-campus collaboration that the Cancer Center hopes to foster, according to Dannenberg.
According to Prof. Cynthia Reinhart-King, biomedical engineering, such collaborations between the campuses is not a new phenomenon.
“[Subjects like biomedical engineering] are inherently multi-disciplinary. ... Collaborations with Weill have been very critical to motivate and help guide our research” Reinhart-King said.
However, Reinhart-King pointed out that such joint projects can be enhanced with greater resources.
“To have a facility dedicated to collaborations would be really important, really exciting,” Reinhart-King added.
As part of Cornell’s Strategic Plan III, the Medical Research Building aims to eliminate such limiting factors by doubling research space, according to Dannenberg. As stated in the winter 2009 issue of their magazine, the medical school also hopes the new building will recruit up to 50 new scientists. With top researchers, the expectation is that it will attract more grant money. Currently, Weill-Cornell is ranked 38th for National Institute of Health grants. In 2008, Weill received 231 grants from the NIH totaling $101 million, according to NIH’s website. In comparison, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — which garnered the most NIH grants in 2008 — received 1249 grants totaling $582 million. More grant money would, in turn, enable more research.
“It’s part of the evolution of the college,” Cohen said. “Now we are coming back to research and whereas before we focussed on recruitment, now we are constructing a lab for our expanded scientific programming.”