Through $30-million gift, building is named BJC Institute of Health at Washington University

Gwen Ericson

Oct. 30, 2007 – The largest building ever constructed on the campus of Washington University School of Medicine will be the home base for BioMed 21 – the University's innovative research initiative designed to speed scientific discovery and apply breakthroughs to patient care rapidly. The building is supported by a $30 million gift to Washington University's medical school from BJC HealthCare and will be named the BJC Institute of Health at Washington University. (See related announcement.)

Construction began in the summer of 2007 on the new building, which will house not only BioMed 21 laboratories and support facilities but also two academic departments of the School of Medicine as well as some support operations of Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The University will be adding 240,000 square feet of research space, and the estimated total cost of the building will be $235 million. As a hub for BioMed 21, the building will provide space for five newly created Interdisciplinary Research Centers (IRCs), including one focused on cancer.

Launched in 2003, BioMed 21 creates a multidisciplinary- and translational-research imperative for basic scientists and clinician-researchers from many different medical disciplines. "We launched BioMed 21 because we recognized that effective collaboration among researchers in different fields is essential to the future of medicine," says Larry Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "The initiative creates mechanisms to more quickly bring basic scientific knowledge to application for medical treatments."

The BioMed 21 IRCs will occupy two floors and other School of Medicine facilities will occupy another three floors of the planned 11 floors in the nearly 700,000 square-foot BJC Institute of Health at Washington University. The new institute is at the southwest corner of Euclid Avenue and Children's Place.

Located in the heart of the Washington University Medical Center Campus, the building will be in immediate proximity to the facilities in which Washington University Physicians provide patient care: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children's Hospital, the Center for Advanced Medicine and the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center.

The five IRCs selected to occupy the new building were chosen through a novel competitive application process that assessed the proposals' scientific merit and alignment with the core principles of the BioMed 21 initiative. Each addresses a disease-specific area – cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, infectious diseases or membrane excitability diseases – and each includes researchers from several scientific disciplines and academic departments who proposed to work together in designated laboratory space within the new building. The IRCs will include established faculty members and will recruit additional new faculty members who possess specific expertise needed to fulfill their missions.

"It's a tremendous opportunity – new ideas and inspiration can arise when researchers with different training and experience are able to interact closely on a daily basis," Shapiro says. "The centers will allow them to better share information, resources and skills to achieve an advanced level of discovery pertinent to human disease."

The IRCs are:

  • The Center for Cancer Genomics, led by Simon Powell, MD, PhD, professor and head of radiation oncology
  • The Center for the Investigation of Membrane Excitability Disorders (CIMED), led by Jeanne Nerbonne, PhD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, and Colin Nichols, PhD, the Carl F. Cori Professor
  • The center for Women's Infectious Disease Research (cWIDR), led by Scott Hultgren, PhD, the Helen Lehbrink Stoever Professor of Molecular Microbiology, and Michael Caperon Jr., PhD, professor of molecular microbiology
  • The Hope Center Program on Protein Folding and Neurodegeneration, led by Alison Goate, D Phil, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Chair in Psychiatry at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of Neurology
  • The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Diabetic Cardiovascular Disease, led by Jean Schaffer, MD, professor of medicine and of molecular biology and pharmacology, and Daniel Ory, MD, associate professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology

The Center for Cancer Genomics will capitalize on the strength of genome sequencing at the School of Medicine and the research orientation of the Siteman Cancer Center. This IRC aims to find genetic variants that modify a person's cancer risk and a person's response to cancer therapies. It will also identify biological mechanisms and markers that will lead to improved cancer diagnoses and treatments.


The Center for Membrane Excitability Disorders will investigate the molecular, cellular and systemic mechanisms that underlie both inherited and acquired membrane excitability diseases, which include epilepsy, migraine, congenital cardiac dysfunction, neonatal diabetes and cystic fibrosis.


The center for Women's Infectious Disease Research will focus on infectious conditions prevalent in women. Researchers will investigate the role of infectious agents – bacteria and viruses – in such medical issues as premature birth, bladder dysfunction, recurrent urinary tract infections, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.


The Hope Center Program on Protein Folding and Neurodegeneration will study problems that tend to affect the aging brain: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, front-temporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), among others. Such disorders appear to stem from aggregation of proteins that become misfolded, and researchers will seek a better understanding of this process.


The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Diabetic Cardiovascular Disease will address how the metabolic changes found in diabetes – alterations in the way sugars and fats are processed in the body – lead to heart disease, a significant complication of diabetes. Researchers will investigate methods for early diagnosis and effective treatment of heart disease in diabetes.

Building planners estimate that BioMed 21 researchers will occupy labs in the new building by December 2009. Cannon Design, an international architectural, engineering and planning firm, is the project architect and S.M. Wilson is the general contractor.