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Stanford opens ‘team science’ complex for brain research and molecular discovery

The Stanford ChEM-H Building on the left and the Stanford Neurosciences Building on the right will provide resources for the entire university community. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)
Nov 12 2019

The Stanford ChEM-H Building and the Stanford Neurosciences Building are opening this month as part of a new research complex dedicated to improving human health.

By Lisa Trei

Teams of scientists, engineers and clinicians from across Stanford’s campus will soon be able to join forces, share expertise and access laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, thanks to an expansive new research complex opening this month.

Dedicated to the life sciences and human health, the facility brings together two interdisciplinary institutes – the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Stanford ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering and Medicine for Human Health) – in two interconnecting buildings. The four-story complex provides 235,000 square feet for work, study and social activity, including a suite of community labs.

“The opening of this complex heralds a new era of scientific collaboration and discovery on campus,” President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said. “The Stanford ChEM-H Building and the Stanford Neurosciences Building will be accessible to the whole university community, allowing experts from different disciplines to work together in advancing human health. We are deeply thankful for the extraordinary generosity of those who are making this visionary complex and these transformative opportunities possible.”

Philanthropic support played a key role in the $256 million complex, with longtime university donors William and Sophy Ding making a foundational gift for the Stanford ChEM-H Building and anonymous donors supporting the Stanford Neurosciences Building. Additional funding was provided by the schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as well as university sources.

"These new faculty are scientific pioneers."
- Chaitan Khosla
Co-Director, ChEM-H

William Ding, whose Chinese name is Ding Lei, is the founder and CEO of NetEase, a Chinese internet technology firm. He and his wife Sophy, or Wang Xunfang, also support disaster relief and educational equity in China and elsewhere in Asia. In addition to anonymous gifts, generous philanthropic support is also being provided by the Kaneko Family, Koret Foundation, James Lin and Nisa Leung, and Alice N. Y. Woo.

Built for team science

At the heart of the complex are seven neuroscience community labs and three ChEM-H knowledge centers with specialized equipment. These cross-disciplinary spaces, staffed by professional scientists, will accelerate discovery by providing access to the latest technologies and hands-on expertise not otherwise readily available to individual faculty.

 Farrin Abbott)

The new Stanford Neurosciences Building and Stanford ChEM-H Building will open this month near Stanford’s hospitals and the Clark Center. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)

Two-story “living rooms” offer break-out working spaces and meeting rooms where faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students can study and connect.

“These facilities provide a blueprint for the future of collaborative team science,” said Kathryn Moler, vice provost and dean of research. “Part of that plan is to arm researchers with advances in computing and imaging that will speed up the pace of discovery. Ten years from now, we’ll be able to look back and trace real breakthroughs to what these research buildings, and the Wu Tsai and ChEM-H institutes, made possible.”

Designed by Ennead Architects, the complex is located at the crossroads of medicine, science and engineering, just steps away from Stanford’s two hospitals and adjacent to the James H. Clark Center, home of Stanford Bio-X. At the entrance near Jane Stanford Way and Campus Drive, a walkway directs visitors into a central garden courtyard. The two airy, light-filled buildings are connected by an outdoor terrace on the second floor that overlooks the courtyard.

New faculty recruits

The opening of the research complex is a milestone for Stanford ChEM-H, which was established in 2013. The institute brings together nearly 150 affiliated chemists, engineers, biologists and clinicians from across campus who are working to understand life at the molecular level and apply that knowledge to improving human health.

Every faculty member moving into the 20 labs in the Stanford ChEM-H Building is a recent hire, apart from Chaitan Khosla, the founder and Baker Family Co-Director of the institute. ChEM-H has recruited 10 top scientists to date and fundraising is under way to attract 10 more.

“These new faculty are scientific pioneers,” said Khosla, who also holds the Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professorship. “They have the collaborative expertise to make research move faster. They will place highly promising scientific bets and accelerate more wins in their quest to invent better medicines. And they are committed to helping others move effortlessly back and forth between disciplines.”

Chemist Carolyn Bertozzi was one of the first recruits when she joined Stanford in 2015.

 

Kurt Hickman

Specialized labs accessible to scientists from across campus are a key feature of the new life sciences complex. In these labs, students and postdoctoral fellows can design experiments, use technical equipment, and advance their research with the guidance of Stanford ChEM-H scientists.

“I came here because I saw an opportunity to build a research institute with a new vision for how chemistry, engineering and medicine can work together,” said Bertozzi, who is the Baker Family Co-Director, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “There is nothing quite like ChEM-H.”

William Newsome, the Vincent V. C. Woo Director of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, said the purpose-built complex offers more than 480 affiliated researchers an unparalleled opportunity to accelerate research into the brain, which he describes as “the most complex entity in the known universe.”

“If we are really going to understand the brain, we have to bring the experimental and theoretical scientists together,” said Newsome, the Harman Family Provostial Professor and professor of neurobiology. “This building, which includes 24 faculty labs and a sandbox for testing experimental devices, will help foster new levels of interaction that will benefit a much larger community.”

A hub – and pub – for collaborations

Even before opening, the complex has fostered serendipitous collaborations. During a planning session, Bertozzi met Tony Wyss-Coray, the D. H. Chen Professor II of Neurology, and discovered they were pursuing related research. They teamed up and identified a gene involved in age-related cognitive decline – then found a way to reverse that decline in mice. Their research may one day make a difference in human health by helping to improve the lives of those who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Spaces throughout the new facility will promote that kind of serendipitous connection – including a pub, prominently located on Campus Drive at the beginning of Jane Stanford Way.

“The pub is emblematic of our view that this complex should serve the entire campus,” Bertozzi said. “It may sound simple, but place a pub in a building and see how it changes the ecosystem. It sends the message, ‘Please come here.’”