NEW RESOURCES FOR
CUTTING-EDGE RESEARCH AT WASHU
By Jim Baer
Few could refute—with 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians
on staff and more than $464 million in support for 750 research
projects—that Washington University in St. Louis is one of the
premier teaching and research institutes in the U.S., or for
that matter, the world.
When cutting-edge medical investigation and bedside treatment
blend together, experts talk about Washington University in
the same breathe with that of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
Minn. and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. World-class
is the appropriate catch phrase.
Furthering the cause, construction began in the summer of 2007
on a $235 million 11-story research center at the heart of the
campus on Euclid Avenue, adjacent to the St. Louis Children’s
Hospital complex. The new research institute is a welcome addition
and will be located in the heart of the 148 acre medical campus.
There was a time when Washington U. was a mere mortal amongst
budding teaching institutions.
The “modern era” for Washington University Medical School began
in 1891, when the university affiliated with the independent
St. Louis Medical College and established the medical department
at the university.
In 1909, Abraham Flexner represented the Carnegie Institute
in Pittsburgh and wrote a scathing report about all medical
schools, and Washington U. made the list. Robert Brookings,
an entrepreneur who became the president of the board of directors
of the University invited Flexner to visit St. Louis and see
the school for himself. Flexner gained a new appreciation for
what the school was doing, Brookings invested much of his personal
wealth in the institute, and by 1914, a major part of the school
was finally in place. The University negotiated to become the
teaching source for St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Barnes
Hospital—still to be built.
Since then, Washington University had dealt with infant feeding
and metabolism; modern techniques of neurosurgery, advanced
radiobiology, cancer research, diagnostic and therapeutic techniques
amongst an endless list of achievements. The University will
always be known for the ground-breaking research done by Dr.
Arthur Kornberg in DNA replication.
The University medical center took a big step forward in July
with the groundbreaking of the BJC Institute of Health at Washington
University, also known as Biomedical Research Building No. 1.
This edifice will be an 11-story, above street level, L-shaped
building with a lower level with nine receiving docks, and a
30,000-square-foot specialized research facility. The first
six floors are in the L-shape, while the top five floors run
east/west along the long leg of the “L.”
The first five floors belong to Barnes-Jewish Hospital when
the doors open in December 2009. BJC’s floors will be shelled
empty space, but they anticipate fitting the floors out in three
years once opened. The second floor will be for dining and pharmacy.
The third through fifth floors will be clinical labs and office
space. Mechanical space occupies the sixth floor, and the top
five floors belong to the Washington University School of Medicine,
and will be research space.
This building will support the University’s on-going BioMed21
laboratories and support two academic departments of the School
of Medicine, as well as some support operations of Barnes-Jewish
Hospital. The University will add 240,000 square feet of research
space; the estimated total cost of the building is $235 million.
BJC HealthCare jump-started the project with a $30 million commitment
and the balance of funds will come from various sources, including
grant money from the federal government and the National Institute
Five IRC’s (interdisciplinary research centers) will become
initial tenants of the building. And they are:
The Center for Cancer Genomics
The Center for the Investigation
of Membrane Excitability Disorders
The Center for Women’s Infectious
Disease Research (cWIDR)
The Hope Center Program
on Protein Folding and Neurodegeneration
The Center for Interdisciplinary
Studies of Diabetic Cardiovascular Disease
The five IRCs selected to occupy the space were chosen through
a unique and novel competition that assessed the proposals’
scientific merit and alignment with the core principles of the
Dr. Jean Schaffer, professor of medicine and molecular biology
and pharmacology was readily rubbing her hands together at the
thought of competing for space in this 21st century facility.
Dr. Schaffer, cardiologist and scientist, educated at both Harvard
and M.I.T., works round-the-clock to cure diabetes, while determining
the relationship of this insidious disease to cardiovascular
“Two-thirds of our patients with diabetes develop cardiovascular
diseases. Arteriosclerosis leads to aggressive heart disease.
The focus at Washington University is on the metabolism of our
patients and their predisposition to more diseases,” she says.
As pointed out by Dr. Schaffer, the vast majority of her patients
are afflicted by Type 2 diabetes; and the body often is becoming
resistant to insulin hormones; and causes other complications.
“That often leads to kidney failure and blindness.”
“It takes great patience and creativity to question medical
assumptions and that’s what will allow us to better treat our
patients.” Dr. Schaffer collaborates with medical and engineering
researchers from the Danforth campus, and will bring all of
this inter-disciplinary research to the new center. Dr. Schaffer,
who mentors to medical students and teaches advanced biology
to PhD candidates, brings her research team together to write
grants and further their work. “You have to show a willingness
to push the envelope and take risks if you are going to make
new discoveries,” she says.
“We have to have more labs and we need to be able to communicate
together better. This new facility will allow us to do that,”
says Dr. Schaffer.
BioMed21 was launched because the medical staff recognized the
effective collaboration among researchers in different fields
to be the difference in rapidly taking their work from the bench
to the bedside in the shortest period of time.
Guiding all of this is Dr. Larry J. Shapiro, executive vice
chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.
“We plan to build on our historical area of research. We are
rapidly translating science into discovery. Our biggest gains
come from combining our research in medicine with the work done
in physics, chemistry, engineering and bio-sciences,” says the
“We are in exciting times,” says Dean Shapiro. “We are focusing
on cures for childhood diseases, while at the same time, we
are finding cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.
We are finding cures that effect the population at all ages.”
“This way we can insure patients are having the latest access
to the most advanced treatments and protocols in modern medicine.
We have such an outstanding faculty, many who have won Nobel
prizes and that is all part of the fabric of who we are,” says
“To be really competitive in medical research, that requires
great resources and tremendous team efforts,” he says.
Scott Hultgren, PhD, the Helen Lehbrink Stoever Professor of
Molecular Microbiology, will bring his 20 to 30 associates’
team into the center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research.
“We have a greater chance to promote women’s health. We will
be recruiting to the new facility and working with local biotech
companies in order to make this happen,” says Hultgren.
His research continues to be in the area of urinary tract infections,
vaginitis, and pain disorders typical of women and irritable
“Often, women are the portal to family health. St. Louis is
one of the highest areas in the country for sexually transmitted
diseases. We need more collaboration and close interaction to
cure these diseases.” Hultgren works hand-in-glove with the
biochemistry and genome science departments at Washington University.
“We have a one of a kind opportunity to become prominent in
this research in the nation. The National Institute for Health
under Dr. Vivian Pinn has emphasized women’s health for several
decades, and we are inspired by their work.”
Dr. David Holtzman, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor
and head of Neurology is on board too. He heads up the Hope
Center program for Protein Folding and Neurodegeneration.
“You can never underestimate the importance of doing all of
this research under one roof. It is amazing what we can accomplish
when we are all working together in one place. That’s how the
big medical advancements come about. Being a good scientist
is being well prepared and this allows for collaboration, group
meetings, sharing of ideas and ultimately presenting new and
fresh ideas. The feedback we get from our colleagues, both good
and bad is important. If scientists are not really challenged,
advanced breakthroughs will never occur,” he reasons.
The new center will include millions of bricks and tons of mortar
rising on the medical campus at Washington University. It takes
millions of dollars to create a world-class research center
for the BioMed21 project, and the medical center is willing
to spend it. Certainly there is no dollar figure assessed when
scientists are searching for medical breakthroughs to save and
extend human lives.
Doisy Research Center, Saint Louis University
7th, Saint Louis University dedicated the Edward A. Doisy
Research Center on their South Grand Medical Campus, culminating
a dream to build a state-of-the-art facility that took ten
years of planning and fundraising to complete.
The $82 million building is the largest construction project
in the history of Saint Louis University. Named for the
Late Dr. Doisy, a Nobel Laureate and professor of international
renown, the facility becomes a working laboratory for scientists
and researchers to study in five key areas: cancer, liver
disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease and
Saint Louis University will leverage this new facility to
attract researchers from around the world. Dr. Patricia
Monteleone, Dean, SLU School of Medicine, has the possibilities
at her fingertips. “The new research building, with its
dedicated laboratory space, leading-edge technology, and
entrepreneurial environment will be a powerful recruitment
tool for continuing to attract a world-class faculty,” she
Father Lawrence Biondi, S.J., president of the University,
says this is the most significant development for the medical
school in its entire modern history.
News of the facility sparked major activity in the research
community. Recently, the University was able to announce
it had received a $23.7 million seven-year contract from
the National Institute of Health (NIH) to expand its research
vaccines and therapies for infectious diseases. This is
among the largest grants earned by the university in a history
of service to the medical community, dating back to 1836.
The nine-acre site is elaborately landscaped with an urban
stream, Zen garden and fountain. Twenty percent of research
lab modules were intentionally left open, allowing for future
The 10-story tower at the north end of the building consists
of eight research floors with a total of 80 flexible, yet
state-of-the-art, highly secured labs. The distinctive,
triangular-shaped building totals 206,000 square feet.
It took construction crews just 522 working days to build
the entire project. Researchers from all over the medical
campus will come together to work under one roof for the
first time in school history.