Structural Biology Gets New Home in HWI Facility

Release Date: May 19, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a city known for its fine historic buildings, the grand opening last week of the facility housing the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) and its Structural Biology Research Center -- the new home of UB's Department of Structural Biology --symbolizes a dramatic addition to the city's rich, architectural landscape.

The 73,000-square-foot building at Ellicott and Virginia streets just north of downtown Buffalo is the first building to open on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus; the permanent headquarters of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences is expected to be completed by year's end, to be followed shortly thereafter by the opening of Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Center for Genetics and Pharmacology.

While passersby stop to admire the HWI facility's gleaming curved facade, metallic aluminum panels and staggered window openings, it's the interior space that's already changing how the world beyond Buffalo sees the first piece of the life sciences complex.

"There are few things scientists care more about than the quality of the laboratory space they're going to inhabit," said George DeTitta, HWI executive director, CEO, principal scientist and chair of the Department of Structural Biology, a unit of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Noting that lab size is significantly limited in some of the nation's most prestigious institutions because of their location in dense population centers, he said that lab space in the new HWI facility is a major asset.

"My feeling is that right now, we probably have some of the most spacious and well-designed laboratory space in the country," he said.

That's an automatic plus for recruitment.

"We've recruited people into what was at the time still a concrete shell," he said, "and once the UB and Roswell Park buildings are up, the three will represent what I think is premier laboratory space in the U.S."

So far, DeTitta said, two new scientists have been recruited, each of whom will have joint HWI and UB appointments, and he said, they are "hot on the trail" of a third.

HWI plans to double its size within the next seven to 10 years, with the Department of Structural Biology also greatly increasing the number of faculty members.

DeTitta added that the department is seeking to boost the number of its graduate students as well, from its current level of seven to between 20 and 25.

"We see it as part of an effort of the university to emphasize the biological sciences," he said. "Over the next few years, we hope to have a lot more students coming into the medical school through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, while we're also deliberately going after students who are strong in the physical sciences and want to become part of the biological revolution."

The $24 million HWI facility was designed to encourage interaction among scientists, both inside and outside the lab spaces.

"When the architect asked what we wanted, I said I'd like a building in which you maximize the chances for people to meet one another and you minimize the chances of people 'hiding out'," DeTitta recalled.

"In the little time we've been here, just since mid-April, I've sensed that even though the new building is much larger than the old one, people meet one another more frequently," he said.

"So it's accomplished what I had hoped in that regard, and once we have the UB side of the street and the Roswell side of the street up, we'll have a lot of interactions among all three," he said.

Those interactions are not only occurring within the building's atrium area and its grand central stairway, they also are taking place in the core facility, which houses scientific instrumentation and which is available to all of the building's scientists.

"We built the lab space around a very robust common space so the core facility serves all of the scientists," said DeTitta. "What you see is maximum interaction and minimum turf-building."

All HWI equipment is commonly owned and accessible to its scientists, he explained, noting that there will be opportunities for researchers throughout the university to use the HWI facilities.

"Our hope is that we will maximize interactions with the other departments in the university through the common use of our equipment," he said.

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