Building for life sciences

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McGill Reporter
April 11, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 14
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > April 11, 2002 > Building for life sciences

Building for life sciences

Alan Shaver's dream of constructing a revolutionary new building at McGill that will mingle scientific and medical research is about to come to life.

Following the dean of science's intense 18-month campaign to get the project off the ground, McGill officials announced yesterday that the University is to start construction of an innovative life sciences building by 2003. Built at a total cost of $53.1 million, the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building will be the centrepiece of the largest research complex of its kind in Eastern Canada and will be one of the biggest construction projects undertaken in McGill's history.

The new building will be constructed to provide more lab space and to stimulate the cross-fertilization of research between scientists from McGill's Faculties of Science and Medicine, as well as the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). Investigators will work closely together in the new quarters to foster multi-disciplinary discoveries within five thematic biomedical fields: cancer, genetics of complex traits, chemical biology, developmental and reproductive biology, and cell information transfer systems.

Shaver promises that the facility will change the way health research is conducted at McGill. He's also convinced that great discoveries will emerge from the new quarters.

"Construction of this building will affect not only the health of Canadians," he says. "People everywhere will benefit. Scientists are on the threshold of a new era of integration of life sciences. With the construction of the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building, McGill investigators will be equipped with the means they need to better understand health and diseases.

"Thanks to this new facility, which will be a research powerhouse, we will reach higher levels of excellence and achievement than ever before."

The project's speedy progress from vision to reality, says Shaver, was smoothed by the collaboration of players who recognized McGill's pressing need for integrated research facilities: Abraham Fuks, dean of medicine, Michel Tremblay, director of the McGill Cancer Centre, Paul Lasko, chair of the biology department and David Thomas, chair of the biochemistry department. All parties understood McGill could not delay this building much longer in order to attract top researchers and retain current stars. "Time waits for no one," stresses Shaver.

With that in mind, the collaborators developed a plan that convinced Francesco Bellini, a Montreal scientist and businessman (see story page 2), to make the leading donation of $10 million towards the project. That gift served as the catalyst for two government organizations to fund a significant portion of the project.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation is providing $21.3 million, of which $12.8 million is earmarked towards the construction and $8.5 million to equip the life science building. "This is the largest CFI-funded project to date," Shaver proudly notes.

A matching contribution of $21.3 million from the Government of Quebec will be divided in the same way as the CFI grant. For the remaining construction costs, the University is awaiting approval of a requested $17.5 million grant from Quebec's Ministère de la Recherche, Science et Technologies.

Fuks says one of the most exciting aspects of the building is how investigators once separated by research fields or buildings will now collaborate under the same roof. What's more, the new facilities will be physically linked to McGill's existing McIntyre Medical Building and the Stewart Biology Building, which will foster increased cross-disciplinary breakthroughs.

"By sharing common space, investigators are sure to enrich and enhance one another's research," Fuks says. "This will be an innovative address, where researchers from McGill and the MUHC will work closely together to develop new concepts that will lead to new treatments."

Emil Skamene, scientific director of the Research Institute of the MUHC, is also convinced the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building will change the face of McGill research. "These new facilities will allow us to make a quantum leap in our science research, from the era of genomics and proteomics to a new postgenomic era of integrative biology," he says.

The life sciences building will also serve as the training ground for the next generation of scientists. The facility will accommodate integrated graduate programs and will become a major centre for the training of postdoctoral fellows.

Principal Bernard Shapiro is hopeful the new building will enable McGill to establish new partnerships. "The Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building will act as a magnet for other research funding opportunities," he predicts.

Shapiro is particularly glad that Bellini's gift will enable McGill to continue to be at the forefront of life sciences. "Thanks to Francesco Bellini's pioneering gift," he says, "McGill will continue its leadership role as a place where discoveries are made and scientific revolutions are launched."

Shaver agrees: "Because we've got it right, with the right mix of people in the right environment, this building is certain to allow McGill to achieve worldwide prominence in health sciences."

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